Court puts GOP in difficult position
For the United States, the Fourth of July represents not only the triumph of independence but the victory of an idea. Not only does it celebrate political freedom but personal liberation as well. “All men are created equal,” although Thomas Jefferson may have not totally grasped its importance, was revolutionary in a highly profound way. Over time the phrase gets richer, wider and more inclusive.
As we saw with the Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 in California and the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, the definition of equality grew. It was a narrow decision, 5-4, and represented another liberation if not liberal victory. Certainly with Judge Anthony Kennedy, who also voted to weaken the Voting Rights Act, the decision was not solely a liberal product.
Now the issue was sent back to the individual states. However, the decision was strongly worded, a fact lost on those who opposed the measure. When Kennedy refused to delay marriages in California, he surprised conservatives who assumed they had a month. No “with all deliberative speed” caveat that slowed the enforcement of Brown v. Topeka in 1955. The majority on the court was emphatic and the barriers fell and the marriages commenced.
Predictably the religious right vowed to fight the marriage equality movement right to the last state legislature. After all, 37 states do not have the law, but the strength of the DOMA ruling placed them in a weakened position. It is still under review, but it appears that Ted Olsen and David Boies set a trap that was far more comprehensive than California. Just moments after the ruling came down, opponents still mumbled that Prop 8 was still valid. As of June 26, 2013, it was dead but its supporters did not notice. Hence, the weekend marriages.
For Republicans, it is difficult, and after the passage of the immigration bill in the Senate, it places them into a knotty position. Chris Christie denounced the decision, no doubt displeasing some of his Democratic fans. But if Christie wants the Republican nomination, he could have done nothing but what he did. But, such social controversies place the GOP in a bad position and hurt in the main event.
The libertarian and business wings of the GOP have problems with social conservatives. This is nothing new; certainly Democrats have their own problems in that regard. Leftists are routinely thrown under the bus if corporate interests are questioned. This Supreme Court is one of the most corporate friendly in recent memory. So it stands to reason that the Christian right would face a similar circumstance.
But arguably, the Christian right is stronger within the GOP than economic progressives in the Democratic Party. Which makes the Republican problem sticky. But social issues have cost the GOP. They no longer compete in California, and they appear nationally as the party of people of a certain age.
Although the high court’s decision was narrow, its political impact was wide.
For Republicans, it is a time for choosing, and neither choice is particularly easy.