And now, an update from the other side of the pond – a place of sanity.
The British House of Commons just passed equal marriage. The bill still has to pass through the more conservative House of Lords (where they all wear wigs and fart on about semicolons) but that’s essentially a technicality – Lords can only delay, not block the legislation. This is a big deal for several reasons.
The first is just that it happened at all. Yet another country- this one with a high population (and close ties and cultural influence over the US) – has decided that marriage rights should be open to all individuals, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
The second reason, though, is more interesting. The bill, while it received a minority of their votes, was proposed by the Prime Minster – a member of the Conservative party. Britain’s center-right party proposed a bill advancing equal rights for same-sex couples, and shepherded it to pass (even though it did so with mostly left-wing votes).
There is a lesson here for America’s Republicans, reeling from racial and demographic shifts that have relegated them to neo-confederate status. There’s a reason that when they spent lots of time talking about abortion, gay marriage, and other social issues, they tended to lose. More and more Americans are coming to see these issues as if not settled than at least moving towards consensus on the side of equality.
A young woman using birth control (read: most young women) isn’t going to vote for a party that says that her body should be controlled by politicians. Someone with gay friends (read: an increasing number of Americans) isn’t going to vote for a party that’s aligned itself with the bigots. Realizing this, Republicans have become scared that their past is going to deliver a generation’s worth of karmic ass-kickings as their old and white voter base dies off and is replaced by the younger, more progressive, more diverse electorate of tomorrow.
Britain’s conservatives, then, offer them a way out of this trap. A remarkable letter written by three conservative cabinet members and lawmakers in Britain makes the case for same-sex marriage as a conservative institution:
Marriage has evolved over time. We believe that opening it up to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, the institution. As David Cameron has said, we should support gay marriage not in spite of being Conservatives, but because we are Conservatives.
Our party also has a strong belief in religious freedom, a vital element of a free society. The Bill ensures that no faith group will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. The legal advice is clear that these protections for religious groups cannot be overturned by the courts.
Religious freedom works both ways. Why should faith groups, such as the Quakers, that wish to conduct gay marriages be forbidden from doing so? This Bill will enhance religious freedom, not restrict it.
Might this bill, and this language around equality as a conservative agenda, help Republicans break through to younger voters?