On Gay Marriage, GOP Is Damned If the Court Does, And Damned If It Doesn’t

There is no good outcome for the party from the DOMA and Prop 8 Supreme Court cases.

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However the Supreme Court rules on the question of gay marriage, Prop 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA, as it's widely known), the rapid shifts in how the country views same sex marriages is giving the GOP a case of political whiplash, as some leaders try to go with the flow and others scream "stop."

On the one hand you have Karl Rove envisioning a pro-gay-marriage Republican presidential nominee in three years; on the other, you have former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee predicting a cataclysmic split in the Republican Party if that happens. If Republicans do flip on gay marriage, Huckabee said last week, "they're going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk."

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

So the immediate question facing conservatives is what outcome they should be quietly rooting for when the Supreme Court hands down its decisions. I think Hot Air's Allahpundit has it about right:

I've read a bunch of pieces lately claiming that SCOTUS striking down gay-marriage laws will actually be a gift to GOP politicians because it'll take this issue off the table. Rubio and Paul and Jindal et al. won't have to squirm over whether to endorse SSM, back a federalist approach to the issue, or oppose it on the merits. They can just shrug and say "The Court was wrong but whaddaya gonna do?" and move on to other business. Take it from Huckabee: That won't happen. Abortion's technically been "off the table" for 40 years and yet it's still an absolute litmus test for any potential GOP nominee (and any potential Democratic nominee too).

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the Supreme Court Overturn the Defense of Marriage Act?]

He goes on to argue that the best case for Republicans is for the court to hold up Prop 8, allowing pols to oppose it but say it should be up to the states. (It's a rule of politics that in most cases when federal candidates insist a tough issue be left up to the states, they're trying to avoid pissing off an important constituency.) Note that the "best outcome" is still pretty bad for the GOP: Young voters, who overwhelmingly favor gay marriage, and—oh yeah—voted in greater numbers in 2012 than seniors, will see through a pol trying to play both sides of the issue.

It's also worth noting here that the Roe parallel works, but only to a point. As Media Matters's Lara Schwartz wrote yesterday, the notion that the 40-year-old decision polarized the issue is nonsensical. As Yale Law School's Linda Greenhouse (who used to cover the court for the New York Times) and Reva Siegel relate, "To the question of whether one can avoid conflict over such issues by avoiding courts, the answer from an accurate pre-history of Roe v. Wade is: no. The abortion conflict escalated before the Supreme Court ruled."

  • Read Stephanie Slade: Before Supreme Court Cases, Public Support for Gay Marriage Was Growing
  • Read Keith Rupp: The Defense of Marriage Act Already Lost in the Workplace
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