Republican Candidates Who Go Wobbly on Marriage Deserve to Lose
Public opinion on same-sex “marriage” has shifted so quickly that major Democratic candidates for president in 2008 still had to pretend to believe in man-woman marriage (that is, “marriage”). It was only after Joe Biden gave the game away that President Obama officially endorsed same-sex marriage as soon as he did — in May 2012. By that time, a majority of Americans were just starting to tell pollsters they agreed. Now, a mere three years later, only the most stout-hearted public figures can make the man-woman marriage argument that Barack Obama was still making in April 2012.
Since politicans tend to be weathervanes, we can now expect some Republican candidates for president to go wobbly on this issue. There are already signs of trouble. Marco Rubio has at least one senior advisor telling him that he’ll scare Millennials away if he opposes same-sex marriage. As a result, there’s a big difference in how Rubio talks of marriage when speaking to CBN versus MSNBC.
This is a mistake. Rubio and other candidates who believe in marriage should defend it, unambiguously and without compromise, and ignore advisors who counsel otherwise. They should do so both because it’s the right thing to do, and because it’s the politically prudent thing to do.
What? Haven’t I seen the opinion polls? Haven’t I noticed the tsunami of invective that follows even the slightest divergence from the party line? Of course I have. Still I think that any Republican presidential candidate who “evolves” on same-sex “marriage,” identifying same-sex coupling with marriage or getting tongue-tied when asked about this most fundamental human institution, will not only fail the leadership test but also harm his or her chances of taking the White House in 2016.
It’s true that the relentless propaganda of the pelvic left has raised the social costs of claiming that marriage, by definition, involves a man and a woman. And, yes, some people have genuinely changed their minds. But few Americans know or understand the public arguments for natural marriage. Many seem to think the whole thing hinges on a few Bible verses. So we can be certain that the public’s change of opinion is based largely on social proof and social pressure — not reason.
Though lots of Americans claim no religious affiliation, far more still profess to be Christian, and historic Christian teaching on marriage is unambiguous. That means a large chunk of Americans telling Gallup that they’re hip with same-sex marriage are, at the very least, conflicted. They may affirm it with their lips, but their hearts aren’t in it.
And even now, 42% of Americans do not equate same-sex coupling with male-female marriage.
It’s likely, therefore, that many who now claim to “support same-sex marriage” fall into one or more of these categories: (1) they don’t support it but say they do; (2) they are double-minded about it; (3) they support it but don’t feel all that strongly about it. So 42% of the population rejects it outright and many of the others aren’t all that committed to it.
Remember, in a national election, a Republican candidate doesn’t have to win a majority of the population. He or she simply has to win relevant majorities of voters distributed across a majority of states. To win the White House, it really doesn’t matter if 40 percent of the distributed voters hate you if sixty percent love you.
Moreover, with most voters, there are trade-offs. If a candidate supports same-sex “marriage,” that will attract some voters and repel others.
So, to reduce the question to a cynical utilitarian calculus, a Republican flip-flop on marriage would only make sense if the candidate had good reason to think that he or she would win more votes than he or she would lose by flip-flopping.
How many likely Democratic voters would vote for the Republican rather than the Democrat for president simply because the Republican endorsed same-sex “marriage”? Five? Five hundred? Five thousand?
Imagine Debbie, a Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. She’s standing in the voting booth trying to decide whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio (let’s stick with him since he’s already come up). She weighs the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. Then she remembers that Rubio changed his mind and now thinks two men or two women can marry each other. So she votes for Rubio. Does anyone seriously think there are lots of Debbies out there?
Now behold a Republican voter, Roberta. She voted for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney. She believes that marriage, the most basic human institution, is the union of a man and woman and is the best setting for children. She has a gay co-worker but doesn’t think that has any bearing on the question. Even after years of relentless pressure from the media, academia and cocktail parties, she still holds her views quite passionately. What would she do if the Republican candidate flips on marriage, or hems and haws so much that it’s not clear what he thinks? Roberta probably isn’t going to vote for the Democrat, but she’s now a lot less inclined to go to the polls to vote for the Republican.
I’m willing to bet that there are vanishingly few Debbies but millions of Robertas. There are also all of those voters who simply dislike wishy washy, weathervane political candidates. If a Republican candidate decides to demoralize the Robertas in order to win over the Debbies, then that candidate deserves to lose. And probably will.
Jay Richards is Executive Editor of The Stream. Follow him on Twitter.