The Supreme Court unveiled two historic decisions Tuesday morning as its justices struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and cleared the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California, despite Proposition 8. This major blow to social conservatives occurs amidst a long string of victories for gay marriage advocates, who have gained increasing support in recent years as 13 states have legalized same-sex marriage and nationwide polling numbers indicate that 58% of Americans — and even 49% of Republican millennials — are now in support of extending equal rights to gay couples. In short, the evidence is clear: the national political fight over gay marriage has decisively broken in favor of its advocates, and, as millennials continue to make up an increasingly large portion of the electorate in coming years, Republicans will need to soften their opposition toward gay marriage in order to remain politically relevant to a majority of American voters.
This half-step towards supporting gay marriage, however, will ultimately fail to capture the millennial vote, because it cannot remedy the vast hypocrisy of Republican attempts to simultaneously promote a libertarian and socially-conservative political agenda. In this sense, the libertarian wing of the Republican Party fiercely promotes a message adhering to classic liberalism, or the idea of a small and highly-limited government that prioritizes personal liberty to the highest degree. This idea of classic liberalism also sits at the very core of the U.S. constitution, which in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights effectively guarantees citizens freedom from both being persecuted by the government because of their religious beliefs and being forced to practice a religion that they do not subscribe to. Despite the First Amendment, however, the socially-conservative wing of the Republican Party has repeatedly attempted to enhance the scope of both state and federal law in order to essentially force all Americans to follow an acutely Christian moral code.
Of late, this trend is most visible in the fight over gay marriage as social conservatives continue to push for legislation that disincentivizes the homosexual lifestyle by barring same-sex partners from marriage. Furthermore, social conservatives are pursuing these laws not because the homosexual lifestyle has any recognizable negative effect on others (as would a murder or theft, for example) but instead because it violates the Biblical moral code subscribed to by a certain subset of the American public. As a result, social conservatives within the Republican Party are currently violating core libertarian values as they attempt to both pass religiously-inspired law and limit personal choice through the expansion of government power.
This fundamental clash between the socially-conservative and libertarian wings of the Republican Party cannot be remedied by a simple piecemeal acceptance of gay marriage. While this strategy of limited acceptance may succeed in producing temporary gains amongst voters in the coming election cycle, the same conflict between the party's libertarian and socially-conservative factions is bound to reemerge around future political debates concerning other, nationally tenuous social issues. If left unaddressed, this internal division will inevitably both befuddle the party's message as politicians attempt to straddle an inherently conflicting political platform and drive away younger, conservative millennials who subscribe to more progressive social views. With this in mind, a choice is looming for the Republican Party: will it continue to provide social conservatives with a vehicle to push their religious views on others, or instead embrace the values of its libertarian wing that sit at the core of America's constitution?