Gay marriage issue poses long-term challenge for GOP

Stephen Richer Law Student, University of Chicago
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In response to the administration’s recent criticism of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), John Boehner’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, said the following to USA Today:

“While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue.”

Is the administration’s criticism of DOMA just a ploy to take the public’s eye off the 9.0 percent unemployment rate and the $14.3 trillion national debt? Perhaps. But the administration’s DOMA dealings also remind young voters why they voted for President Obama in 2008.

It’s no secret that there’s a generational divide on gay marriage. According to a recent Pew Study, voters who are 65 or older oppose gay marriage by a 58-24 margin, but voters who are between 18 and 29 support gay marriage by a 52-40 margin.

These statistics have electoral implications. The Democratic Party is currently perceived as the friend of gay marriage, and the Republican Party is perceived as its enemy. Accordingly, every time gay marriage is mentioned, 52 percent of young voters put a minus point in the Republican column.

And gay marriage isn’t just any issue. It’s an issue that is increasingly important to many young voters, and it’s driving them away from the Republican Party.

The statistics from a just-released RK Research survey of 1,000 college students substantiates this. On a scale of 1 (very poor) to 10 (excellent), respondents rated the Republican Party’s performance on gay marriage as 3.8 — dead last of the 25 issues surveyed, and the only issue where Republicans averaged below 4.0. Even more devastating for Republican electoral ambitions is the fact that a plurality of young voters now identify as independents, and independents gave the party a 3.0 on gay marriage, again dead last.

Does it matter that young voters dislike the GOP’s position on gay marriage? Maybe not in the short term. The general public remains divided on the issue. But what will happen in 10, 20, or 30 years, when the older generations, which oppose gay marriage, are replaced by the younger generations, which favor it. What will the GOP do then?

In his book 40 More Years: How the Democrats will Rule the Next Generation, Democratic strategist James Carville predicted that the millennial generation would make the Democratic Party the dominant party in American politics for the foreseeable future. The title of Carville’s book is over the top, but the GOP’s stance on gay marriage is helping to make his prediction come true. Our political, business, academic, scientific, and legal leaders (not to mention general voters) are becoming increasingly supportive of gay marriage. By coming out against DOMA, the president might have simply been trying to distract the electorate from the country’s current economic woes. But he’s also sowing the seeds for future Democratic success.

Peter Tucci, writing for The Daily Caller a few weeks ago, was right: The GOP has a gay marriage problem.

Stephen Richer is the Director of Outreach at a Washington, D.C.-based legal think tank.