Twitter lets you watch conventional wisdom congeal and harden. Since the Supreme Court announced it’s taking another same-sex marriage case today, one bit that has been in formation is that the Supreme Court could really do Republicans a favor by settling the same-sex marriage issue: Make same-sex marriage a constitutional right, and Republicans won’t have to keep taking the unpopular side of the issue. I think there are reasons for skepticism.
First of all, though, let me note that the premise that same-sex marriage is costing Republicans a lot of votes does not seem to have much evidence behind it. The RNC’s autopsy report in 2013 suggested that the party desperately needed to moderate on the issue. But that was right after an election in which the traditional-marriage position outpolled the Republican presidential candidate in every state it was on the ballot. And while polls now show majority support for same-sex marriage, it’s not clear how many votes the issue moves. You’d want to know how many of the supporters consider the issue a deal-breaker, and then how many of them are down-the-line liberals. Maybe the answer is “a lot.” But I see many confident assertions about the political effects of this issue in the absence of such evidence.
Anyway, it seems to me that the position that makes the most political sense for the next Republican presidential nominee, in the absence of a Supreme Court decision pretending the Constitution creates a right to same-sex marriage, is: I oppose it, but I understand a lot of people and states disagree, and the president doesn’t have much say over this issue. If the Supreme Court does issue such a ruling, Republicans in the presidential primaries will be under a bit more pressure to say that they back a constitutional amendment reversing the decision and to say explicitly that they’ll appoint justices who don’t tend to agree with that sort of decision.
And either way, the debates over religious liberty and freedom of association connected to the marriage issue will continue.