No, the Religious Right Hasn't Gone Away

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Tony Perkins speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC.

At this point, it's almost cliché to say that we've seen a sea change in attitudes toward same-sex marriage. But it's hard not to remark on the rapid move from widespread opposition to widespread support. Recall, for instance, that it was just eight years ago when the sitting president ran a re-election campaign with gay baiting as a key strategy. Now, looking ahead to 2016, both parties are likely to field candidates who are either supportive of marriage equality (in the case of Democrats) or simply silent on the issue (Republicans).

Writing at TechCrunch, Gregory Ferenstein attempts to root this shift in the rapid growth of the Internet, and even goes as far as to argue that the web has weakened the Religious Right—the main political opponents of same-sex marriage—to the point of irrelevance:

As the GOP struggles to regain its footing with bright young programmers and the growing libertarian grassroots movement, it’s no shock that they aren’t presenting themselves as a pro-traditional marriage, pro-choice, creationist party — even if the party elders hold those beliefs.

Most importantly, only issues that are discussed can be a public priority. And, since conservative social values are in social media black hole, the Internet is erasing the religious right from the national discussion and, ultimately, politics.

The only plausible way to make this argument is to focus on same-sex marriage, and Ferenstein does exactly that. Indeed, when he turns to consider the Tea Party, he waves away any possibility that they are concerned with social issues as well as economic ones: "[T]he new official Republican roadmap almost entirely ignores the social issues once central to conservative politics."

And that's true! But while the RNC gave short shrift to social conservatives in its postmortem of the 2012 elections, that's no sign the Republican Party—which is far more than its national committee—has given up on promoting more traditional views. This is most clear when it comes to reproductive rights. In the quoted paragraphs, Ferenstein refers to "pro-choice" GOP elites, but that's nonsense; even the most liberal of prominent Republicans—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—opposes abortion. Indeed, if there's any issue that unifies the GOP–besides low tax rates for the rich—it's abortion.

Anyone paying attention to national politics knows the score: Mitt Romney opposed funding for Planned Parenthood and promised to appoint judges who would almost certainly vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, while vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan sponsored the federal equivalent of "personhood" amendments, which would define the embyro as a human "person," and outlaw abortion, as well as most forms of contraception. Each of the early contestants for the 2016 Republican nomination—Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Christie—oppose abortion rights, while Republicans on the state level have tried to one-up each other with draconian anti-abortion laws.

Behind all of this is deep pressure from religious conservatives, who—despite their retreat on same-sex marriage—remain a potent force in abortion politics. Organizations like the Family Research Council offer time and money to anti-abortion politicians, and work to bring anti-abortion laws to state legislatures around the country.

If you're not concerned with reproductive rights, then yes, you could argue that the Internet has diminished the reach and power of the religious right. But if you're at all concerned with women's autonomy, that's a ridiculous claim to make.