June 21, 2013
Writing in Business Insider, Josh Barro points out that the conservative reaction to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s statement of support for marriage equality this Wednesday was, essentially, to not react. Barro did some web sleuthing to see how conservative outlets were covering the story, and his results were pretty surprising:
Nothing at National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, the Washington Free Beacon, or the American Spectator. Breitbart.com ran two Associated Press stories. WorldNetDaily ran an NBC News story. The Daily Caller and RedState mentioned Murkowski in pieces about immigration reform, but nothing on gay marriage.
The only conservative outlet I found covering Murkowski was the Washington Examiner, which ran a straightforward news story about her announcement.
Even more intriguing, though, are Barro’s hypotheses for why the right-leaning media avoided the issue:
A substantial share of the staffers at these publications, especially the younger ones, are now supporters of gay marriage. National Review ran a feature piece arguing for gay marriage in 2011.
Those who oppose gay marriage are sick to death of talking about the issue. They know they are losing the fight over public opinion and that their complaints are not going to convince anybody. And making those complaints has become awkward, because opposing gay marriage has come to be seen as rude in polite society.
Timothy Kincaid has some particularly nuanced thoughts on the issue in a piece posted yesterday at Box Turtle Bulletin that is well worth reading in full. In essence, Kincaid’s argument is that the burden of proof has shifted from marriage equality opponents to marriage equality supporters in such a way that the framing of the entire issue has changed:
[I]t seems to me that we have entered a phase in which one can be “not ready” or “not convinced” or “not yet evolved” on the issue of marriage equality. That’s simply opinion. But to be actively opposed suggests a character flaw, something with a whiff of nastiness and maybe even vile. The public – right and left – seem to have decided that you can support gay marriage or you can not support gay marriage, but you can’t oppose gay marriage any longer.
That last sentence is particularly astute. I would argue that this is the real-world manifestation of the so-called ‘tipping point’ for marriage equality that I and others have written about before. It’s the result of a majority of Americans going from polling consistently against equal marriage rights to polling consistently for them, and a product of the remarkable success of marriage equality ballot measures in the 2012 election. Today, equal marriage advocates are confident and emboldened, while opponents appear cowed.
To me, the central point that Kincaid picks up on is that, for a majority of Americans today, support for marriage equality seems like an obvious position, and opposition seems like something that has to be justified. With that in mind, it might be wise for the conservative media to keep quiet about marriage equality–they really don’t have much to add to the conversation these days.