By Lori Heine
A headline in the March 27 Washington Examiner declares, “Evangelical leader shows how GOP can finesse gay marriage.” Such a prospect is something of an ink-blot test. Straight evangelical Republicans past a certain age may view it with hope, or even excitement. Gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Americans may react with apprehension. They may even be inclined to think, “Not again!”
The article’s author, Byron York, notes that “it’s hard to see a gay-marriage-supporting candidate make it through the GOP primaries.” He asks if it might be possible, however, “to imagine a Republican nominee who finds a softer way to oppose gay marriage without alienating either his party’s older voters, who continue to overwhelmingly disapprove, or the millions of Americans who now support same-sex unions”.
Many polls now indicate that Americans increasingly distrust government in general and politicians in particular. This article is unlikely to rekindle their trust. It is highly possible that by the time they cast their ballots in 2016, they will be in no mood to be “finessed.”
Cynical sports-page-style political reportage may have sufficed in the past. Perhaps once it was enough for us to know who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out, who’s hot and who’s not. As people – especially the young – leave the churches in droves, articles advising evangelicals on how to fool voters into supporting their pet causes may not play as well as they used to, either.
York shares the latest wisdom from Southern Baptist Convention president Russell Moore. The “finessing” of which Moore speaks involves understanding “the public good of marriage” (for heterosexuals), not being “hostile to evangelical concerns” (at least, not of those who oppose same-sex marriage) and being willing to “protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience” (for those who interpret Scripture the way he does). The religious liberty and freedom of conscience of those who believe they should marry their same-sex partner, instead of merely live with him or her in what they regard as sin, gets no respect from Mr. Moore whatsoever.
But wait – there’s hope! “Missing from Moore’s answer,” says York, “was a firm requirement that a presidential candidate be a vocal opponent of gay marriage.” The article goes on to say that “there’s little doubt [Moore’s] putting new emphasis on liberty and less on manning the barricades against gay marriage.”
It is possible that this – dare I use the word? – evolution will please voters in both camps. It’s also possible that it will alienate everybody. There has never been anything stopping those who disapprove of same-sex marriage from disapproving of same-sex marriage, nor have they ever been required to marry people of the same sex. Indeed, they need nobody else’s permission to go right on the way they have been.
York quotes Tim Carney, another journalist at the Examiner, as he, in turn, quotes theoretical evangelicals: “You guys won your gay marriages, permissive abortion laws, taxpayer-subsidized birth control, and divorce-on-demand; let us just live our lives according to our own consciences.” Totally setting aside the fact that evangelicals are as likely as anybody else to avail themselves of birth control and divorce-on-demand, as nobody ever stopped them from living according to their consciences before, it’s hard to believe they’ll count it as much of a victory that they can go on doing it.
“I don’t think the culture wars are over,” Moore says, “but are moving into a new phase.” York sums up his article by declaring that evangelicals (especially younger ones) “appear no longer likely to require that a political candidate go to war over the issue” of same-sex marriage – “and more likely to insist that leaders protect the faithful’s beliefs.”
Polls also show that Republicans (especially younger ones) are becoming more libertarian in their attitudes toward government. It will be interesting to see if they’ll accept the notion that they need government to “protect” their beliefs. Time will tell whether such silliness, broadcast from the pulpit, will succeed in packing the pews. Whether voters will buy it from candidates for political office is another question entirely.