Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.
The White House is lit up in rainbow colors following Friday’s ruling that legalizes gay marriage nationwide.
On the Surface
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Friday that the Constitutional guarantee of equality under the law means that states cannot deny gays the right to marry. With reactions from GOP candidates ranging from furor (such as Bobby Jindal’s motion to abolish the Supreme Court) to acceptance (such as Jeb Bush’s call to move past the decision), how the decision affects the GOP is dependent on the candidates’ reactions.
In years past, the GOP has been able to use the issue of gay marriage to alienate swing voters from the Democrat party (Hillary Clinton is an outspoken advocate of gay marriage). But public opinion has shifted swiftly and radically. Five years ago, fewer than half of all Americans supported gay marriage; today, that number has grown to sixty percent, with more voters expressing that they strongly endorse it. This means that Republicans must shift from appealing to an older, more conservative base to a younger base that views gay marriage as a fundamental issue. This proves a sticking point for many in the GOP.
Republican Response: An Opportunity to Evolve
The ruling can either be good news or bad news for GOP candidates. They could use the decision as a way to mobilize the more conservative base in Republican primaries with vehement opposition; however, this could cost them in the general election where a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage.
The other option is to accept the ruling as final in order to move past an issue where the GOP disconnects from most voters. This approach runs the risk of alienating a party base that views the decision as an infringement on religious liberty.
However much some candidates may blow and bluster, the Supreme Court has granted the party an enormous boon. Republicans have failed to capture the popular vote in five of the last six elections, and not because conservatives have failed to turn up to the polls. If GOP candidates are going to be successful come election time, they need to embrace the decision in order to appeal to a wider audience.