The Republican party is a mess. In its rational moments (which are admittedly limited), the party recognizes that it has to change its attitudes, particularly on immigration and gay rights. Young Republicans have said the party has to drop the antigay rhetoric, and the establishment’s own post-mortem of the 2012 election admitted that the party will continue to lose young voters if it doesn’t change its homophobic tune. So it’s no surprise that the GOP’s national leaders are offering muted denunciations of the Supreme Court DOMA ruling. Secretly, they are thrilled that they can put the issue behind them.
The irony is that the Supreme Court would never have had to rule on DOMA at all if Congressional Republicans hadn’t pushed for their own lawyer to defend the law in court when the Obama administration said it wouldn’t. This is not the outcome those Republicans would have wanted. But it may be the best one for them.
“For all practical purposes, the combined rulings just about spell the sunset for the issue of marriage in national Republican politics,” John Ullyot, a Republican strategist and former longtime Senate aide told Buzzfeed. “Bottom line: in less than a decade, opposition to gay marriage has transformed from a marginal political winner for Republicans (see Ohio 2004) to a liability with swing voters in a decreasing number of competitive states.”
The key phrase there: “national Republican politics.” At the state and local level, there will be no shortage of GOP wingnuts who are intent on making a statement about their hatred of marriage equality. They will be front-and-center as marriage equality ballot measures spring up. They will also use marriage equality as red meat to rouse the conservative base. You can never been too conservative in the GOP this days, and what better way to prove it than gay bashing. That’s why you can count on some of the real right-wingers in Congress to make futile gestures, like introducing anti-marriage constitutional amendments that have zero chance of passing.
The Republican party will continue to be a mess for a long time. But the Supreme Court just gave the GOP a big gift–a way out of the demographic death spiral that it finds itself in. Already, Sen. Lindsey Graham has untied the ribbons. “In my view elected officials should be defining marriage, not judges, but the court has ruled and I respect the court,” he said. You can just about hear the sign of relief in his voice. Graham knows he just got a great present. The question will be whether the rest of the party also knows a good thing when it sees it.