Seven years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling on marriage equality, and while much of the Republican Party was disappointed with the outcome, GOP strategists were quietly relieved to have the issue off the table.
The sentiment was understandable: The American mainstream’s attitudes on same-sex marriage were leaving the GOP behind. As The New York Times reported in 2015, the justices' decision had “the benefit of largely neutralizing a debate that a majority of Americans believe Republicans are on the wrong side of.”
A year later, Donald Trump won the party’s presidential nomination, and he expressed zero interest in fighting this specific culture war. As he wrapped up the nomination, the Times ran an article with a headline that read, “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.”
Around the same time, Trump, in apparent seriousness, said he, not Hillary Clinton, would be the “better friend” of the “LBGT” [sic] community. Just two days after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the Republican added, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you.”
It seemed that Republican politics had taken a turn. There was little political upside to running as an anti-gay party, so much of the GOP signaled a willingness to focus partisan energies elsewhere.
And now there’s at least some evidence to suggest that some Republicans are prepared to go backwards.
The Washington Post reported late last week, for example, on hard-right Republicans and militant groups portraying LGBTQ people as “groomers” targeting children, which appears to have contributed to intensifying threats at Pride celebrations throughout the country.
The Post’s article noted, among other things, a quote from Mark Burns, a Donald Trump-allied congressional candidate in South Carolina, who called “LGBT, transgender grooming” a national security threat and proposed using treason laws as the basis for “executing” parents and teachers who advocate for LGBTQ rights.
It was against this backdrop that the Texas Republican Party approved a new platform over the weekend. A separate Post report explained:
[A] party platform presented to convention delegates labeled homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” ... The Texas Tribune reported that party delegates rejected an effort to soften the language on homosexuality from a delegate who said it would not help the party.
When the delegate made the case that the GOP wouldn’t benefit from pushing an anti-gay line, he was laughed at, booed, and ultimately ignored.
The adopted platform — a 40-page document that’s available online in its entirety — went on to say Texas Republicans “oppose using public funds for homosexuality.”
I haven’t the foggiest idea what that even means.
The Texas GOP platform added, “We affirm God’s biblical design for marriage and sexual behavior between one biological man and one biological woman, which has proven to be the foundation for all great nations in Western civilization. We oppose homosexual marriage, regardless of state of origin.”
The Texas Tribune noted that these provisions are new: While some platform language is often carried over from year to year, these anti-gay elements were not included in the 2018 or 2020 Republican platforms.
What’s more, circling back to our earlier coverage, the Texas GOP is hardly alone. The Maine Republican Party also recently adopted a platform that opposes, among other things, same-sex marriage.
A few weeks earlier, as the Senate moved toward confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas invested a surprising amount of time criticizing Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized gay marriage.
Last year, Kevin Roberts, the new president of the Heritage Foundation, argued that if you support marriage equality, “it means you’re not a movement conservative.”
The year before that, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas complained in a dissent about the “victims” of the court’s marriage equality ruling, and around the same time, Alito delivered an unusually political speech to the Federalist Society in which he whined about social pressure surrounding anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.
“You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman” anymore, the conservative justice whined, as if he were a candidate seeking social conservatives’ votes. “Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.”
In 2015, it appeared that marriage equality, among other elements of LGBTQ rights, was effectively off the table. In 2022, too many Republicans are eager to put it back on the table.