In breaking news that should surprise no one, the Democratic Party has expressed its intention to support gay marriage in its Party Platform. For several years now, prominent Democrats have been calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (now accomplished), the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, and the enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But the final pieces had fallen into place once Vice President Biden and finally President Obama went on the record supporting gay marriage.
Internecine Democrat struggles and short-term political calculations aside, the conservative movement has neither a moral nor political future in a blanket objection to gay marriage. Gay people have already been living together in committed relationships, raising kids, and participating in their communities for years. They are not going to abandon their families, go back into the closet, and consign their lives en masse to loneliness or celibacy.
In this vein, many conservatives are already coming around to support gay marriage. Many who oppose it are at least calling for some other legal recognition, as President Bush did back in 2004. Some leaders, like Chris Christie, support strong civil unions. Others, like Governor Romney, favor something more limited. But in all cases these conservatives are in line with data showing most Americans favor some legal recognition of gay unions. After all, no family is helped when another struggles needlessly.
Some conservatives have written off gays as just another special-interest barnacle on a bloated Democrat agenda. But many gay Americans voted more Republican in 2010 than in previous years, and while gays may be a minority, the people who know and support them are not. This trend of more conservative gay votes can continue, if conservatives go for those votes.
If Mitt Romney wants to play the long game for every vote possible, he needs to stop talking up constitutional amendments that won’t help anyone’s marriage and start advocating for proposals to support American families—gay and straight. I don’t expect him to embrace full-on gay marriage before this election, but he needs to present a vision for why all families and communities will thrive best under Republican leadership.
When Americans—gay and straight—no longer have to worry about politicians opposing or undermining the integrity of their families, many will naturally appreciate what conservative governance has to offer. Gay couples, no longer fighting for recognition, will want their taxes low and spent wisely. Gay parents, freed from endless worrying over bullying, will advocate for better schools and accountable teachers. A gay entrepreneur or worker will demand policies that promote strong businesses—with or without unions—when he no longer has to worry about being fired for having a picture of his family on his desk.
American families and the communities they live in will be naturally stronger, more committed, and more conservative when the law and order of their country support them. There will always be folks on the Left who see their opponents on these issues as bigots, and they will say so loudly. But the barb only stings while the GOP lacks an answer that resonates.
Gay marriage is only a “distraction,” if we make it one.