Nestled between booths for pro-life groups and conservative think tanks at this year’s College Republican National Convention was a bright red table, covered in candy and plastic megaphones and surrounded by students. Delegates grabbed megaphones as they entered the conference hall to begin voting and made small talk with the table’s organizers. While it would not have been surprising to see such a crowd of young conservatives flocking to a table for The Heritage Foundation or some like organization, these students were instead lending support to the organization Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry.
While suggestive of the future of the Republican Party’s social stances, this group was indicative of the groundswell of support for LGBT equality on the right side of the political spectrum. As of this writing, three sitting Republican senators support full marriage equality. While not an overwhelming number, it is significant to note that not one of these leaders supported marriage equality until a few months ago. Of greater significance were the pro-equality Supreme Court rulings of the past week. Both of these rulings depended on some Republican appointees crossing party lines. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion suggests that the court does view policies singling out gay individuals as discriminatory. Perhaps more important than the actual outcomes of the decisions, this precedent should shape legal outcomes across the country.
While Republican policy makers are moving slowly on this issue, those free from the pressures of holding political office seem even more ready to accept marriage equality. From the Cheney and McCain families to Laura Bush these giants of Republican politics will undoubtedly shape the opinions of their fellow conservatives even if they cannot directly impact policy.
Even Republican opponents of gay marriage seem to be accepting that their positions are losing ones. In his bitter dissent to the DOMA ruling, Justice Scalia all but admitted that gay marriage is inevitable. Elected Republicans are taking different tacks, but all seem to be avoiding coming off as overly zealous on the issue. Speaker John Boehner offered some calm remarks on the Supreme Court’s ruling that seemed resigned rather than inflammatory. When vetoing gay marriage for his state, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie rested his veto on wishing New Jersey voters to have a referendum on the issue. He significantly did not strongly condemn the idea or try to moralize his position. Even Tea Party firebrands like Rand Paul are taking decidedly neutral tacks. Paul, rather than strongly opposing gay marriage, hides behind his libertarian protestations for states’ rights.
Young Republicans have developed an interesting dichotomy which allows them to hold all traditional conservative positions, including being pro-life, while opposing the party’s position on gay marriage. Interestingly, they are doing this not because of a desire to drop a conservative value, but to apply conservative principals to an issue in a new way. Preventing government from defining love now holds a greater value than preserving the status quo. Helping all loving families to grow and succeed seems somehow more important than restricting what constitutes a family. The thoughtful approach young Republicans have taken on this issue bodes well for the future, not only of conservatism, but of our nation.