March 30, 2012
By Jacob Combs
In a front page, top-of-the-site article today, POLITICO reports on the Republican Party’s “retreat” from the issue of marriage equality:
It’s been one of the swiftest shifts in ideology and strategy for Republicans, as they’ve come nearly full circle on same-sex politics. What was once a front-and-center issue for rank-and-file Republicans — the subject of many hotly worded House and Senate floor speeches — is virtually a dead issue, as Republicans in Congress don’t care to have gay marriage litigated in the Capitol.
Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told POLITICO.
The POLITICO story doesn’t exactly break new ground, but it is remarkable to note that House leadership has had a hand in crafting the legislative truce on marriage equality at the federal level. Congressional Quarterly ran a piece last week detailing how John Boehner has come under fire from conservative groups for not doing enough on the marriage front. Of course, Boehner has committed $742,000 to the defense of DOMA out of a contract that provides for up to $1.5 million. In an excellent example of ‘small government’ at work, it’s unclear where exactly this money is coming from.
This is not to say that Republican leadership has suddenly seen the light on marriage equality; they’re still committed to defending the discriminatory and unfair law that is DOMA. However, it is still significant that when Republicans discussed a reaffirmation of DOMA or a vote on the merits of a constitutional amendment on marriage last year, they opted to forgo both and quietly pursue only legal action.
In my opinion, there are two big takeaways from POLITICO’s reporting. First, while anti-marriage equality efforts continues to take place on the state level, there appear to be quiet but encouraging signs that we have essentially won on the federal level. Talk of a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution is dead, as it rightfully should be (that was always a pipe dream with little chance of enactment). P8TT has opined before that it might be preferable to our cause if were DOMA struck down by the Supreme Court before that court rules on the Prop 8 case. I continue to agree with that sentiment: DOMA is now the remaining hurdle to marriage equality at the federal level. Bringing down DOMA returns the debate entirely to the states, where the real gains will continue to be made. (Because family and marital law is historically the province of state governments, a federal legislative action establishing marriage equality would be as suspect under the Tenth Amendment as DOMA is. The proper route to equality is through state legislatures and courts and, eventually, a Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of marriage bans.)
Even more importantly, though, it’s important for the marriage movement to stay on guard. The whole “we should only be focused on the economy” argument is a canard, even if it does help our cause right now. The economy will improve, and once it does, some conservatives will no doubt go right back to advocating for rolling back any marriage equality achievements we’ve made. We have an opportunity, then, (and so does the Democratic Party) to push our advantage in this moment and to argue that equal rights should be a priority for our nation and for our government in any economic environment. If we do, when the economy improves and conservatives are looking for a new cause to rile up the base, we can ensure that marriage equality remains a political non-starter for them.