The social conservatism of presidential elections past will be a hard sell in 2016—but apparently no one has informed the Republican candidates.
Same-sex marriage, which is already legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia, is supported by the vast majority of Americans: 61 percent, a record high, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released last week.
And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court, which in 2013 struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, will hear oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that will determine, definitively, whether same-sex marriage is legal in America by answering two questions: Is it constitutional for states to deny same-sex couples the right to marry; and are states constitutionally required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Legal experts predict the court will come down on the side of marriage-equality proponents.
Marriage equality is so overwhelmingly accepted, in fact, that a popular narrative among social conservatives is that those who remain opposed to gay marriage are being bullied and discriminated against by those who support it.
But if you had been medically frozen in, say, 2003 and thawed out on Saturday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Spring Kick-Off event, you would probably be under the impression that a clear victor of this particular culture war has yet to emerge.
At the Point of Grace Church in Waukee, a Des Moines suburb, candidate after candidate (or likely-candidate) pledged support for a constitutional amendment that would overrule the Supreme Court’s decision and allow states to ban same-sex marriage again. (How this would work is not quite obvious.)
Ted Cruz warned the crowd that liberals are trying to enforce “mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states.” He will be praying on Tuesday as the oral arguments take place, he said, and he asked the crowd to join him.
Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and Rick Santorum all made similar pronouncements. (Rand Paul somehow managed to steer clear of the topic altogether.)
But Cruz in particular had reason to succumb to hyperbole. While the senator from Texas has maintained a vehemently anti-marriage equality stance for the duration of his political career—even, as a means of appealing to social conservatives, announcing his presidential bid at Liberty University, an evangelical college that he A. did not attend, and B. is not based in the state he represents—he did, last week, make what was perceived as a misstep.
Cruz was hosted at the New York City apartment of two openly gay hotel magnates. At the gathering, which Cruz insists (and The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson reports) was really just about Israel, Cruz said, “If one of my daughters was gay, I would love them just as much.” (The event didn’t just have fallout for Cruz, but for his hosts, who, after facing boycotts, apologized for daring to speak to someone with different beliefs than them.)
It would seem Cruz’s performance at the Faith and Freedom event was bombastic enough to make a full recovery. Not that he was alone—if there is one thing anti-gay marriage types sure love, it’s theater.
Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, told the audience that the country is “criminalizing Christianity in this country by telling people who hold to an orthodox worldview of biblical marriage that if you still believe that…you will be guilty of discrimination, which could result in some kind of civil or criminal action against you.”
Presumably Huckabee was referring to the plight of Memories Pizza, the independent Indiana pizza shop that became the subject of controversy—and right-wing acclaim—when its owners said they would not cater a gay wedding. The store closed for eight days, during which time the owners raised close to $1 million. On the ninth day, God reopened Memories Pizza to a packed house. Civil or criminal action against you.
While most of the country favors the legalization of same-sex marriage, Republicans overwhelmingly do not. According to that Washington Post-ABC poll, over 60 percent of Republicans and more than 70 percent of conservative Republicans remain opposed.
Appearing soft on traditional marriage could prove fatal in the primary, where socially conservative voters hold significant power. Candidates prone to more moderate rhetoric on marriage (if not actually moderate policies)—Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul—must compete with the likes of Cruz and Huckabee, both of whom usually sound like they are on the verge of waving snakes in the air and speaking in tongues.
This places Republican candidates in a tough position. What wins the primary may be the very thing that sets the nominee up for failure in the general.