The humiliating Republican losses in the last election have sparked a great deal of soul searching in our party about what went wrong and how to fix it. There is no shortage of proposed remedies: better messaging, more attractive candidates, better use of social media, more effective voter turnout strategies, among others. All of them have merit, and yet even if all of these shortcomings were fixed tomorrow, the future of the Republican Party would still be bleak. Why? Because it is directed by a Christian right base that is almost totally isolated from mainstream American values like social tolerance and personal liberty and those who most represent such values: voters ages 18-29, otherwise known as millennials.
Nothing better symbolizes the wide gulf between most Christian right voters and millennials than the issues of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Christian right voters, especially older ones, insist that the government should promote their religious values and beliefs – from outlawing homosexuality to teaching their religious beliefs in public schools to demanding that the government subsidize “faith-based” religious organizations.
Millennials, on the other hand, grew up with gay people and gay rights as part of American culture. Most say they know someone who is gay, which is why most oppose the Christian right social agenda. According to a recent poll, a quarter of millennials describe their religious preference as “none,” and 69% say that religious groups alienate younger adults because of their anti-gay beliefs. It should come as no surprise, then, that 62% of Millennials support same-sex marriage, while 71% support civil unions. Sixty-nine percent favor adoption by same-sex couples, and 79% support employment nondiscrimination legislation that covers gay and lesbian Americans. They are clearly pro-gay rights.
On the other hand, almost every Christian right spokesman and organization (and consequently a great majority of Republican candidates) takes the opposite view, adamantly opposing nearly every expansion of gay and lesbian rights. Is it any wonder, then, that so many millennials find our party, which differs so radically from their own beliefs on gay issues, repugnant? On economic issues, of course, the Republican Party offers many attractive positions to young people: an economic philosophy that promotes free enterprise, jobs and economic growth, and a determination to tackle the entitlement programs that will eventually drown young voters in a sea of debt. But will they listen to a party that continues to demonize gay people? The answer should be obvious.
Fortunately, Republican millennials are also on the right side of these issues, which is why they must be in the vanguard of those fighting to bring the Republican Party into the 21st century. More than half of them support same-sex marriage, and even more support civil unions. Ironically, 44% of white evangelical millennials support gay marriage as well, demonstrating that the religious right organizations that claim to speak for all conservative people of faith do not.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Republicans at large also disagree with the Christian Right: 66% support employment nondiscrimination protections; 57% support either civil unions or same-sex marriage; a majority backs the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; and only 37% support a federal marriage amendment. The bottom line is this: the Christian Right, the tail that seems to wag the dog, is completely out of sync with not only most Republican millennials but also most rank and file Republicans on these issues. So why are they still in the driver’s seat?
David Lampo is the author of A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).
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