WASHINGTON – No one can be certain which way the Supreme Court will rule on gay marriage, but the direction of history’s arrow is plain for all to see – except, apparently, the Republican candidates for president.
Actually, the very fact that the court is hearing arguments on the issue this week seems to telegraph how the justices are leaning. Prior rulings have been read by lower courts as a mandate to throw open the courthouse doors, with the result that same-sex marriage is now legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The main arguments against gay marriage, always as thin as tissue paper, have become irrelevant.
There has been no rending of the fabric of society. There has been no deleterious impact on “traditional” marriage. A recent Washington Post poll showed that 61 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage – meaning no one can claim the nation is somehow unprepared to see two men or two women walking down the aisle.
For much of the country, gay marriage is becoming old news. But you would never know that from listening to the GOP presidential hopefuls, who play rhetorical Twister whenever the issue is raised.
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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he firmly opposes gay marriage. But he’s no bigot – he attended a relative’s same-sex nuptials. But he went only to the reception, not the actual ceremony.
What, pray tell, is the distinction Walker is trying to draw? He was happy to celebrate an exchange of vows that he refused to witness? Would he maybe have been comfortable attending the ceremony but sitting way in the back, perhaps with a bag over his head?
Sen. Ted Cruz – who, like Walker, hopes to do well among social conservatives in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses – is typically vocal and uncompromising in his opposition to gay marriage, maintaining that the “traditional” definition is “ordained by God.”
But when he attended a recent New York fundraiser hosted by two gay businessmen, a perfect setting for one of his tour de force demonstrations of confrontational rhetoric, Cruz mostly maintained a mouselike silence on the subject. He did offer that if one of his daughters were gay, he’d be fine with that. But when asked whether he would attend a same-sex wedding, he doesn’t say yes or no.
Cruz’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, claimed to see no confusion in any of this. But of course there is. For an increasing number of Americans, opposing same-sex marriage means being anti-gay. Being pro-gay and anti-gay at the same time is something not even a candidate with Cruz’s gift of gab can pull off.
Sen. Marco Rubio is also trying to split the difference. Like Walker and Cruz, he says he opposes gay marriage but argues it should be left to the states – which is, when you think about it, more of a cop-out than a solution. Ours is a peripatetic nation; families move from state to state in search of better jobs, different lifestyles, relief from allergies, whatever. It is absurd that couples would have all the legal rights and responsibilities of matrimony in the state they’re leaving and not in the state they’re moving to.
That was the situation faced by Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, in 1967 when their case reached the Supreme Court – the Lovings’ marriage, performed in the District of Columbia, was illegal in Virginia. The court struck down all laws across the country banning interracial marriage – as it should now do with laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Despite his “states’ rights” position, Rubio has been seeking support from the Log Cabin Republicans, an association of gay conservatives. Perhaps to this end, he says he would attend the same-sex wedding of a friend if invited.
Sen. Rand Paul says he supports “traditional marriage” but also favors “the neutrality of the law that allows people to have contracts with another.” But if the law were truly neutral, same-sex couples would be treated just like opposite-sex couples, right? Or is Paul somehow redefining neutrality?
Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are at least unambiguous and consistent in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Their problem is simply that most Americans disagree.
Finally, Jeb Bush: With several prominent supporters of gay marriage on his staff, might his views be evolving? I think he should call a news conference and announce full support for marriage equality. It might just help his lumbering campaign get its mojo back.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.