Shortly before the US Supreme Court heard arguments to strike down restrictions on same-sex marriage, the Republican National Committee outraged hardline conservatives with a report calling for greater flexibility on gay rights and immigration reform in order to lure young people into the Republican Party. GOP strategist Karl Rove piled on the insult by speculating the Republican Party’s next presidential candidate could support marriage equality (though later walked it back). Evangelical leaders erupted in protest, threatening to abandon the GOP if the party were to change its increasingly unpopular stance.
The tide is changing rapidly against this so-called evangelical base of the GOP. Last week, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) became the first sitting Republican senator to declare his support for marriage equality. While a majority of all Republicans still oppose same-sex marriage, a new poll found that 49 percent of Republicans under 50 years old actually support extending the right to marry to same-sex couples.
Below are a few of the social conservatives the GOP would have to do without if they abandoned their opposition to same-sex marriage:
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)
“They might [decide to support same-sex marriage], and if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk. And it’s not because there’s an anti-homosexual mood, and nobody’s homophobic that I know of, but many of us, and I consider myself included, base our standards not on the latest Washington Post poll, but on an objective standard, not a subjective standard. If we have subjective standards, that means that we’re willing to move our standards based on the prevailing whims of culture.” [3/20/2013]
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council
“The vast majority of the GOP base believes that marriage is a non-negotiable plank of the national platform. Anything less, writes Byron York, ‘could come back to haunt the RNC in the not-too-distant future.’ […] If the RNC abandons marriage, evangelicals will either sit the elections out completely – or move to create a third party. Either option puts Republicans on the path to a permanent minority. [3/19/2013]
Gary Bauer, former presidential candidate
“Shame on the politicians and the judges that are trying to undermine the institution of marriage. I’m a Republican…let me say to my party: if you bail out on this issue, I will leave the party and I will take as many people as I possibly can.” [3/26/2013]
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel chairman
“If worst case scenario the last week of June we come down with a bad decision, the church and people of faith and values need to rise up. We just simply cannot allow this to become the law of the land, it will fundamentally change who we are, it will fundamentally weaken the family and religious freedom will be in the crosshairs. [3/26/2013]
Rush Limbaugh, talk radio host
“If the party makes that [gay marriage] something official that they support, they’re not going to pull the homosexual activist voters away from the Democrat Party, but they are going to cause their base to stay home and throw their hands up in utter frustration…Whether they like it or not, the Republican Party’s base is sufficiently large that they cannot do without them and their problem is they don’t like them. It really isn’t any more complicated than that.” [3/18/2013]
The growing right-wing schism was on full display at CPAC earlier this month, when organizers disinvited the gay conservative group GOProud to appease anti-gay board members. The decision to exclude GOProud sparked protests among prominent conservative commentators worried about the GOP’s flailing outreach efforts to more socially liberal minorities like women and young people.
Still, evangelicals and social conservatives have little cause to worry. Though public opinion on gay rights is evolving rapidly, the Republican Party does not plan to change their stance on marriage equality anytime soon. The RNC’s report, while encouraging outreach to Latinos, blacks, women, and young people, notably excluded the gay community from the list. Rather than disavow exclusionary and discriminatory policies enshrined in their platform, the current GOP strategy is to sugarcoat their anti-gay rhetoric in hopes that young voters will overlook their true intentions.