Are Republicans Haunted by these Numbers?

Pundits & politicians make predictions by watching voter trends. Despite a bit of pre-election uncertainty about the Presidential race, they accurately foretold the Republican losses in the House & Senate, primarily because they could tell that the electoral wind was to the backs of the Democrats. "Them Dems" may not have captured every seat up for grabs, but Congress took on a decidedly bluer hue, just as anticipated by the trend watchers.

Now observe another trend shown by the sequential gay marriage votes in California. In 2000, Californians voted to outlaw gay marriage by a margin of 61-to-39%. Afterward, the state's Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional, opening the way for California to become the second state in the US to allow gay marriage.

But a citizens' initiative offered Californians
a chance in the most recent election to amend their state constitution to once again outlaw gay marriage. Although the measure passed, the margin this year dropped to 52-to-48%. That's a shift of 9 percentage points in only 8 years, regarding a topic that is reputed to represent a core belief of the American electorate.

Now it is no secret that the Republican party has identified itself strongly with preventing gay marriage. Democrats are not necessarily in favor of it, but cries for gay equality are at least heard by the Democratic leadership, while they are almost uniformly ignored or scorned by the Republicans. So what do these numbers say about the voter trends and Republican policies?

First off, the numbers show that young adults are far more supportive of gay marriage (and gay rights, in general) than are older adults. In other words, younger voters are steering away from the anti-gay bigotry that has helped to define recent Republican politics. Because gay people are coming out earlier, these young adults have grown up knowing gay friends and relatives.

Second, Republicans are stuck with a religious base whose leadership is more conservative than the youth that they are leading. Among evangelical young adults, support for banning gay marriage is far lower than among their elders, and in California, the biggest shift in the past 8 years occurred among younger voters (18-to-29-year-olds).

So the Republican party is stuck with a voter trend away from their
anti-gay candidates, unless they fundamentally change their stances. But at the same time, they risk alienating their most loyal supporters if they relax their stance on same-sex unions. Nationwide, gay marriage has already lost much of its heft as an anchor for conservatives to chain around the necks of liberals. As a matter of fact, denial of gay rights may soon become a burden that weighs down the Republicans. (What does it say when in New England, where every state either recognizes gay marriage or offers civil unions, there is now not a single Republican member of the House of Representatives?)

In the era of Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney (Mitt's dad), and even Ronald Reagan, human rights used to be an issue that Republicans could meaningfully embrace. After all, it was the first Republican President who emancipated the American slaves. If the GOP wants to remain known for more than religion-based intolerance, then it has to listen to the youth of America and recognize that same-sex marriage offers a societal benefit that will strengthen (not weaken) our social structure.

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