How Republicans Are Handling Marriage Equality and What It Means For The 2016 Election

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June 26th, 2015, the US Supreme Court handed down an epochal ruling: Same-sex marriage would be legal in every American state. The US is joining a pretty exclusive club. Only 21 countries worldwide have marriage equality nationwide, as this map (based on data from the Human Rights Campaign) demonstrates:

marriage equality across the world

The United States is by far the largest country with nationwide same-sex marriage rights, extending full marriage equality to more people than any other nation, and indeed to more people than the several next-largest nations combined. It feels like we are finally keeping up with the world for once.

It has not been an easy for us to get to this point.

It is an issue that has been avoided at the federal level for years. Fears of religious and political clash have kept it from the U.S. Supreme Court up until this summer. In April of 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges. They look to answer these 2 questions from that case.

Question 1: Does the U.S. Constitution require states to perform same-sex marriages?

Question 2: Does the Constitution require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states?

The questions leave many options open for the court’s answer, and could have lead to a few outcomes, one of which was marriage equality across the U.S.

Before the Supreme Court ruling, marriage equality in America looked like this:

U.S. states and marriage rights
Marriage equality in the U.S. prior to the Supreme Court ruling on June 26th, 2015.

The fight for marriage equality in the States has been a vehement one, pitting Republicans and Democrats against each other. It’s not surprising to anyone to see that the states without marriage equality are located most in the South, and along the Mason-Dixie line. These are states where religion is still a large factor in politics. Take Rick Scarborough, a Baptist pastor, and Christian political activist has said he would be willing to be burned to death in his fight against gay rights.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, Texas attempted to pass a slew of anti-LGBT laws, fearing a ruling in support of same-sex marriage. From “religious freedom” bills to adoption curtailment to protecting “ex-gay therapy,” to actually defending same-sex marriage, they have been frantically trying to reaffirm their anti-LGBT stance.

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In a document called a Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage, Christain leaders, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, stated that gay marriage would be the “beginning of the end of Western Civilization” and that they “would not obey” it if the Supreme Court does decide to pass it over the summer.

After The Decision

These candidates mean to stand by their earlier threats. Already, the GOP is lashing out about the court’s ruling.

Here are some of the reactions to it.

The Bad

Mike Huckabee stepped up on Friday and predictably declared, “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.” Huckabee is also part of a group that would seek an amendment of the constitution to ban gay marriage in the future.

Jeb Bush offered his words: “In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”

Additionally, Gov. Bobby Jindal had this to say:

Bobby Jindal on marriage equality

General Ken Paxton of Texas said in a statement that county clerks can decline to issue licenses on the grounds of religious freedom. “Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans,” he wrote.

You'll notice how he refers to the Court's decision as an "opinion"
You’ll notice how he refers to the Court’s decision as an “opinion”

The Good

While these GOP loudly call out their religious freedom to defend their opinions, some GOP members are accepting the decision, understanding that young Republicans mostly support marriage rights, and this hard opposition isn’t going to help anyone in the 2016 election.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality and is urging his fellow Republicans to abandon efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. “I don’t believe there is any chance for a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman to get two-thirds votes in the House and the Senate, and be ratified by three-fourths of the states,” acknowledged Graham.

Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 Republican candidate John McCain, urged Republicans to let the matter drop after the decision was made. “Republicans have to move on from this or become relics,” said McCain.

“The GOP’s nominee in 2016 has to support this ruling,” she continued. “I think any anti-equality rhetoric will be lethal. We live in a world now where the reaction to Caitlyn Jenner is overwhelmingly positive and loving and accepting.”

McCain is absolutely right. According to Pew Research, 61% of Republicans under the age of 30 support marriage equality. Additionally, the favor of marriage equality, in general, has never been higher, with more than half the public (54%) supporting the right.

same sex marriage for young republicans

This is an issue that Republicans will want to keep an eye on since millennials could be the power in the 2016 election. Although the recent midterm elections resulted in domination by the Republican party and victories for those harping on different issues, such as tax breaks for high-income households, millennials are expected to make up a sizable percentage of the vote in the presidential election.

A study by the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University released shortly after the 2012 election showed that Obama took 67 percent of the nationwide youth vote, while Mitt Romney pulled in only 30 percent. The youth vote swayed the most neutral states and was what ultimately led to Obama’s victory.

What the GOP needs to consider now is if it is worth it to deny marriage equality (or even appeal it) during the election season. While the denail may garner support from some of the Republican party, it will alienate the younger parts of it, leaving the presidential hopefuls as “relics” come election time.


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