Was Brian Beutler right when he explained, Why Conservatives Should Praise God for the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision? His argument is pretty standard. The decision allowing same sex marriage across the country has saved the Republicans from themselves. He compared it to Brown v Board of Education. He noted, “If a different Supreme Court hadn’t helped end the civil rights debate, a big segment of the country would’ve remained separate-but-equal fanatics for years and years, and driven their elected officials into that dead end with them.” He’s right about this, of course. In another couple of years, same sex marriage is going to have 80% approval and it helps the Republicans a lot to not have to talk about it.
But there is a bigger point here: conservatives are always on the trailing end of history. And the Republican Party has set up a system where they have to use these ancillary issues in order to further their primary goal of enriching the already rich and empowering the already powerful. And they really do get stuck in their own traps. But it is hard to feel sorry for them because issues like same sex marriage serve them well for a long time. And they would be lost without them.
The more important point is that, as same sex marriage becomes a thing of the past, they will simply find new things to stand against. This is Corey Robin’s very definition of conservatism: being against liberation movements. The point is always and forever that whoever are in charge at any given time are the right people to be in charge. So we always will hear things from conservatives like, “Well certainly Jim Crow was bad, but that’s all a thing of the past!” Whatever it is that people are asking for now must be resisted because freedom is a limited quantity. In fact, that’s been quite explicit in the same sex marriage debate where it was bizarrely claimed that it would harm heterosexual marriage — like there is some law of conservation of marriage.
And let’s not forget that the ultimate fall back for conservatives is the poor. LGBT rights has always been a sideshow. The true popular power of the Republican Party has been its veiled (and not so veiled) attacks on African Americans and Latinos as the moocher class. This has the advantage of being fairly straightforward. It really goes along with what conservatives believe: the rich are rich because they are better and the poor are poor because they suck. This was, by the way, one of the primary arguments for chattel slavery. Not much has changed.
So I think that Beutler is basically correct: for the Republican Party, the legalization of same sex marriage is helpful. There will, of course, continue to be culture warriors like Mike Huckabee who will pander to that consistent 20% of the population that hates everyone and everything. But mostly, the party will abandon it. But it will continue on with its usual bigotry. And it will find new things to demagogue against. Cheer up Republicans, the dream is not dead!