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- Even crazy ol' Michele Bachmann can't hate on gay marriage like she used to.
As Christopher told you in the Morning News, the Supreme Court has paved the way for gay marriage in five states including Utah and Oklahoma, with more states to follow. Richard Socarides called this news "a little bit incremental" in the push for nationwide gay marriage but overall "a fantastic result" that is worth celebrating. The fight over gay marriage is a battle that Republicans are quickly surrendering.
It seems as though we're not going to get a dramatic proclamation from the Supreme Court that gay marriage is legal in the entire nation. Instead, the last few years of the gay marriage battle will end with tedious court battles in a few exceptionally bigoted states. Republicans have realized that it's not an issue that they can win on anymore. Ronald Brownstein at the National Journal reports that the midterm elections are demonstrating the effects of this change: "With little notice, virtually all of the Republicans running for governor in states that have authorized gay marriage have indicated they would accept the practice and not seek to ban it." Hell, even Michele Bachmann called same-sex marriage "boring" and "not an issue" before dragging herself back to the evangelical Christian party line a couple days later.
But some issues never die. Last week, Texas came close to overturning Roe v Wade on a state level with a decision that will close most of the state's abortion clinics. How is it that, more than 40 years after the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide, this is still a political issue? It's true Republicans on a national platform cower when asked about the Texas decision, as mealy mouthed RNC chairman Reince Priebus did on Meet the Press yesterday, saying that Republicans "believe that any woman that’s faced with an unplanned pregnancy deserves compassion, respect, counseling, whatever it is that we can offer."
This is a lie that tumbles down from Priebus's half-baked forehead and slips out of his spittle-flecked smirk with much discomfort.
You can see him straining to do the mental math that would allow him to simultaneously appeal to conservative Democratic-leaning women in upstate New York and the Westboro Baptist Church. It's an impossible task, of course—I get the sense that Reince Priebus barely appeals to Reince Priebus on a good day—but all that effort simply doesn't matter. Priebus can get away with bumbling a lie about how Republicans care about women, because he never suffers the consequences for it.
My question is, why is it politically toxic for Republicans to go negative on gay marriage, and yet it's perfectly acceptable for Republicans to go nuclear when it comes to abortion? They're both issues that religious groups feel strongly about. Why is one not okay and it's acceptable to attack the other with impunity? And I think the answer comes down to one word: men. When it comes to abortion, I believe that certain important male demographics—independents and South Park Democrats, which is to say men who are socially liberal but either libertarian on business matters or strangely apathetic to everything that falls outside their tiny spheres of influence—get, to use the vernacular, "squicked out" when it comes to abortion. It's not so much that they're against abortion as they don't like to think about it, or they have an imaginary woman in their head—the welfare recipient who gets an abortion two or three times a year for free thanks to Obamacare—who they direct all their scorn towards. When a Republican talks about putting tighter controls on abortions, that's a language that appeals to their sense of equivocation—surely, they think to themselves, abortion could use tighter control? After all, they strongly suspect that some people are abusing the system as it stands. They don't personally know anyone who's abusing the system, and they haven't done any research on the matter, but these straw women have got to be out there, right? People don't vote against people, they vote against bogeymen and things that they don't understand. White male voters are a rapidly shrinking demographic, but they still have the power to turn certain elections, especially on a state level.
How did those white male voters turn toward gay marriage? It became impossible to ignore. Same-sex marriage became a national issue, and gay people spoke up about their experiences. It became too difficult to demonize gay marriage as some nebulous "value" to be voted down. Eventually, even these male voters started to pay attention—they knew a gay man or a lesbian who wanted to get married, or they knew someone who knew someone. They transformed from bogeymen who wanted to somehow demean the institution of marriage (whatever that means) to Sarah and Elizabeth from the grocery store, who are nice people who just want to be happy. Along those lines, if every man who ignored or misunderstood abortion as a political issue realized that they knew a woman whose life was changed by access to safe and legal abortions, their opinions would likely change.
In the end, I'm not comfortable with asserting that the key to keeping abortion safe and legal involves appealing to men. This is not a problem with an easy solution, and men are not the saviors here. Men are the source of the problem. But I do think the fight for gay marriage proves that putting a face on an issue is an invaluable political tool.