Note: the following article was originally written in early June for another venue, but I’ve reprinted it here because I think its point is still relevant.
What a difference a couple of election cycles make. In 2004, with solid majorities opposing gay marriage, Republicans aggressively campaigned on the issue, contributing significantly to the reelection of President George W. Bush and the passage of marriage protection laws in over 40 states. Congressional Republicans introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment repeatedly between 2002 and 2006.
Fast-forward to 2011. Support for gay marriage has been steadily rising since 2006, finally reaching a 53% majority in a March 18 ABC News/Washington Post poll. On May 6, Gallup found that just 15% of Republicans consider social issues their top priority.
Granted, most of the current GOP presidential field rejects Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ call for an ill-defined “truce” on social issues, and there are no serious Giuliani-style liberals in the race this time around, but overall the Republican Party and conservative punditry have put the issue on the backburner, allegedly to focus on wasteful spending. And in this observer’s opinion, this trend of Republicans taking their eye off the ball is the biggest factor to blame for public opinion’s leftward shift on marriage.
You see, liberals long ago figured out how to multitask with their economic and social agendas. As they fight for ObamaCare and cap & trade on Capitol Hill, they know they can leave their cultural causes to the courts, where judicial activists strike down traditional marriage definitions as discriminatory, to the schools, where radical sexual morals are increasingly embraced, and—most importantly—to the natural consequences of the Right’s comparative silence on the issue.
The arguments for gay marriage are intuitively appealing, since they tug just the right emotional heartstrings. It’s easy to recognize the deceptively simple appeal of the common rebuttal, “How does my marriage threaten yours?” Simple: it doesn’t. By contrast, the conservative argument that marriage’s man-woman definition serves a vital social purpose, and that dismantling it will have devastating indirect consequences, is less intuitively obvious to apolitical Americans. It needs sustained public explanation and debate.
The American people aren’t interested in telling gay people how to live, or keeping them from sharing property or visiting one another in the hospital, and as long as liberals frame the narrative as a choice between redefining marriage and treating gays like second-class citizens—and as long as conservatives aren’t loudly, visibly exposing it as a false choice and explaining the true point of marriage—it’s only natural that a significant portion of the populace will accept the Left’s scare-mongering and oversimplifications at face value. Lies don’t correct themselves.
And wouldn’t you know it, even with its schedule free of those distracting social issues, our Tea Party-charged Republican House has been somewhat less than effective at unshackling the economy or solving the debt crisis. We shouldn’t be surprised by the correlation between indifference on social issues and ineptness on economic ones—the link between conservatism’s social and fiscal aspects runs far deeper than many want to admit.
Our Founding Fathers understood that self-governing societies cannot endure if the virtues necessary for an independent citizenry—responsibility, independence, morality, work ethic—aren’t instilled in each generation, which marriage does by binding husband and wife to each other for the sake of their children’s upbringing, so future citizens can take care of themselves without Uncle Sam’s aid. And with scores of social ills, from poverty and academic failure to teen pregnancy and crime, linked to the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family, the verdict is in: children need both a mother and a father.
For years, society’s conception of marriage has been drifting away from the needs of children and toward the wishes of adults. By erasing procreation from marriage’s definition entirely, same-sex marriage would hammer the final nail in the traditional family’s coffin. Conservatives who are serious about reforming our paternalistic government can’t afford to sit this fight out. As marriage goes, so goes the nation.