Not so Fast, Republicans

Jonathan Chait makes an important point about the progress of social movements. In the beginning, they inspire rabid opposition—“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever”—but as they earn mainstream acceptance, former opponents quickly “forget” they ever worked to stymie the cause. As Chait notes, this is already happening with the Republican Party, given the rapid advance of gay rights. Here’s Republican strategist Rick Wilson as he explains to Politico that a favorable legal ruling will end the notion of GOP opposition to LGBT equality:

“It removes the issue from the Democratic playbook of fundraising scare tactics and political demagoguery and breaks their usual messaging dynamic of, ‘You’re a beleaguered minority; let us protect you from the evil GOP — oh, and here’s your absentee ballot,’” said Florida-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson.

There are two things worth noting. First, to borrow from Chait, Republican “demagoguery” on gay rights isn’t some liberal phantom—it was the centerpiece of President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, and has played a starring role in GOP politics since then. There’s even an annual conference, the Values Voter Summit, where Republican activists and politicians band together to “defend traditional marriage.”

Second, with few exceptions, the GOP is still opposed to marriage equality. And even if that weren’t the case, it’s also true that same-sex marriage isn’t the final world on LGBT equality. On the other issue of concern—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—Republicans are silent, if not opposed. And this is to say nothing of the social conservative base of the GOP, which has little appetite for gay rights.

Forward-thinking Republicans might want to put this issue behind them, but the simple fact is that the party has a long way to go before it can plausibly describe itself as friendly to LGBT equality.