Republican lawmakers stand athwart marriage equality at their peril

When I asked Stowell which political figures inspired him in his fight for marriage equality, he answered with Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party’s first president, and Ronald Reagan, arguably the GOP’s most revered president. “I think President Reagan would recognize where America is on this issue, and he would step aside,” said Stowell. Lincoln’s work to end the brutal institution of human slavery, too, helped place the Republican Party on a decades-long trajectory of pre-empting their Democratic counterparts on issues of rights and freedoms.

They seem to have lost their path.

But the recent experience in New Hampshire shows what happens when Republicans who support marriage equality organize effectively: a roughly 2/3 majority in the state House opposed HB 437, including over 100 Republican legislators. That number is larger than it has been anywhere else in the nation’s history of marriage politics.

Several high-profile Republicans filed an amicus curiae brief this week in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case now before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of California’s controversial Proposition 8. Serving as co-counsel to the plaintiffs is Ted Olson, former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush. In 2011, Olson joined my former Cato Institute colleagues in an excellent, short video in which they distill the constitutional case for marriage equality.

Adding to the list of amicus briefs in Hollingsworth come, for the first time in history, dozens of major corporations — including Apple, Facebook, and Morgan Stanley — who argue in their brief that supporting marriage equality is a business imperative in today’s world. The government, they argue, should protect same-sex marriages everywhere, because some employers currently cannot compete for talent with firms in other states where same-sex couples can share benefits with each other. One wonders what risk the traditionally business-friendly GOP runs in continuing to oppose marriage equality.

While some Republican proponents of marriage equality have enjoyed success in recent years, stoking support among the rest of the grassroots will continue to be a challenge. Rod Dreher’s excellent editorial in The American Conservative immediately following Election Day 2012 gives some cues about (a) why supporting marriage equality makes sense for conservatives, and (b) how socially conservative activists might approach the issue politically, in a way they can digest it.

But setting aside the moral and constitutional imperatives to end opposition to marriage equality, Republicans have everything to gain politically from embracing the new facts about the world in which we all live. House Republicans have an opportunity before them to strip their Democratic counterparts of a powerful political weapon, and finally pivot to more pressing issues like opposition to oppressive taxes and wasteful spending, the ethos of the Tea Party movement that propelled them to power in 2010.

Craig Stowell and I, among others, implore them to do so.

George Scoville is a media strategist, researcher, and writer in Springfield, Virginia. He is the editor of The Dangerous Servant and a contributor to United Liberty.