Think the Republican Party has a new leg to stand on in this campaign cycle, because of the recent news regarding homosexual marriage?
Not so fast.
In the aftermath of the California Supreme Court decision which overturned that state’s ban on homosexual marriages, some have been quick to assume that:
• The issue of homosexual marriage will favor Republican presidential nominee John McCain and Republican congressional candidates, just as the issue favored President Bush in his 2004 re-election bid; or
• The issue won’t have any impact at all on the coming election in November.
I suspect that both of these views are wrong — and here’s why.
As for the “it’s 2004 all over again” line of reasoning, let’s understand this: it is faulty to analogize much of anything between the Republican Party’s election efforts in 2004 and now. President Bush was a fairly popular wartime president four years ago, and today he is wildly unpopular. The economy was strong four years ago, and today we’re somewhere in the midst of a period of economic slowing. And in 2004, the Republican Party had yet to damage its relationship with many conservative Americans, as it did in 2007 with the legislative and public relations debacle known as “comprehensive immigration reform.”
In short, the Republican Party and the entire country are in very different circumstances today than they were four years ago.
But, with respect to the issue of homosexual marriage and John McCain’s presidential campaign, things couldn’t be more different between then and now.
While changing the historic definition of marriage remains wildly unpopular with a majority of Americans, the people who are most likely motivated to vote simply because the issue is on the ballot are usually religious social conservatives. And rightly or wrongly, McCain is no George W. Bush when it comes to appealing to religious social conservatives.
To his credit, John McCain has always seemed to recognize the delicate issues that are in play with various attempts to ban homosexual marriage. And he has not merely chosen his positions on the matter based on what is politically expedient or popular in the moment.
He supported a statewide ballot initiative here in Arizona back in 2006, that both “banned” same-sex marriage but also sought to prohibit the granting of health benefits to same-sex couples. McCain did television ads in support of the initiative — but did himself no political good, as the initiative eventually failed at the ballot box.
Similarly on the national level, he has chosen positions which have brought him disfavor with the few remaining leaders among the religious social conservative movement.
McCain has always been supportive of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” a bill signed into law by President Clinton back in the mid 1990s which allows the various states to not recognize homosexual marriages that have been “licensed” in Massachusetts or California. Yet, McCain also stopped short of supporting the religious social conservative movement’s ultimate plan — to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit homosexual marriage altogether.
McCain’s reason for not wanting to amend the Constitution is valid, and thoughtful. This, he has suggested, is not a time in our nation’s history when we want to open a “constitutional convention” for any reason, owing to the fact that our nation is very divided on a host of things right now, and the Constitution could in such a scenario end up being amended in ways nobody could even predict.
He has also suggested that the amendment approach could be taken up by the secular left, should the Democrats control the White House and the Congress again someday, and that could result in outcomes that religious social conservatives would find abhorrent.
And this brings us to the “homosexual marriage won’t affect the election at all” crowd.
To believe this, one must assume that McCain’s position on the issue is the same as that of Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and that’s not true.
Obama has openly called for the repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” so that the various states would be forced to accept same-sex marriages from other states. Clinton has called for a “partial repeal” of the law as well.
McCain’s positions are not simplistic or “black-and-white” in their nature. They are thoughtful and well-reasoned. Whether they work to his favor in the election remains to be seen. But, as is the case with most issues, whether his positions are popular or not, McCain sticks with his principles.