Just as a fresh round of Republican soul-searching has commenced, Hillary Clinton came out in support of same-sex marriage this week — and a Washington Post poll found that public support for gay marriage is at an all-time high. It's not clear that GOP officials can afford to continue refusing to evolve on this issue.
Although Clinton has spoken out repeatedly for gay rights, and she endorsed New York's legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011, her announcement moves the ball significantly. Every action that demonstrates that our culture is changing, and that the nation is ready for legalized gay marriage, could influence the Supreme Court in its upcoming hearings.
Most legal observers believe the justices won't want to get too far ahead of public opinion when they rule on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. Clinton's video message accomplishes two things at once: It confirms that no Democratic presidential nominee will ever be viable without embracing marriage equality, and it sends a strong message to the court that the American public is ready to embrace same-sex marriage. Her language in referring to a constitutional right to gay marriage — "the rights of citizenship" include "marriage" — was unequivocal.
Meanwhile, the Post poll shows that Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal, 58 percent to 36 percent. Independents believe by a ratio of 62 percent to 33 percent; moderates, 71 to 24. But Republicans oppose gay marriage 59 percent to 34 percent, and conservatives oppose it 60 percent to 33 percent. The Post polling team also found that:
• Voters ages 18 to 29 support legalizing gay marriage, 81 percent to 15 percent;
• Nonwhite voters support legalizing gay marriage, 61 percent to 32 percent.
• College-educated whites support legalizing same-sex marriage, 65 percent to 29 percent.
This last constituency — socially liberal college-educated whites, along with young and minority voters — is increasingly a key pillar of the Democratic coalition.
Tellingly, non-college-educated whites, a segment of the population on which Republicans are increasingly reliant, show significantly less support for gay marriage (53 percent to 42 percent) than college-educated whites do, and less support than the public overall. (A recent Quinnipiac poll also found that Latinos, young voters and college-educated whites were significantly more supportive of gay marriage than were overall Americans, while non-college-educated whites oppose it.)
Monday's big Republican National Committee report on the health of the party doesn't directly engage the issue of gay marriage, but it notes that for younger voters, "issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays" are a "gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be." The report also notes that if the GOP wants to appeal to minority voters, the party "must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming."
These poll numbers suggest that gay marriage is a good place to start.
© 2013 Washington Post