Can Michael Steele Really Reframe Gay Marriage as an Economic Issue?
By that logic, then, to help small businesses, it would behoove states not to recognize marriage at all. And social conservatives would surely not welcome such non-recognition.
Steele's suggested reframing of the issue would thus do little to help the GOP.
In preparing for President Obama's announcement of his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee may have come up with an approach which could resonate with voters, even in such "blue" states as California. According to the Washington Post, conservatives in our nation's capital "are making clear that his nominee will face plenty of questions during the confirmation process on the legal underpinnings of same-sex marriage."
Committee Republicans are sure to press the president's nominee on how he or she would adjudicate the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law signed by then-President Clinton allowing "states to ignore marriages performed in other states and den[ying] federal recognition of legal gay marriages." In addressing the constitutionality of DOMA, Republicans could force the nominee to elucidate his judicial philosophy -- whether, in the words of Alabama's Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, "they think that they're not bound by the classical meaning of the Constitution, and that they may want to let a personal agenda go beyond what the law said."
Many conservatives believe (and judicial decisions in several states bear them out) that liberal jurists have just such a "personal agenda" that these jurists will discover a "right" to government recognition of same-sex marriage in the penumbrae of the federal constitution. By asking the president's judicial nominees to address this supposed "right," Judiciary Committee Republicans could reframe the issue not as one of gay marriage per se, but as one of separation of powers -- whether the legislature or the judiciary should define gay marriage.
And that has proven to be a winning issue at the ballot box. Some credit the success of Proposition 8 to the "Yes on 8" ad which reminded voters that "four activist judges" (on the State Supreme Court) overturned a popular initiative, Proposition 22. Indeed, state ballot initiatives defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman do better in years when state Supreme Courts mandate state recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2004, after Massachusetts' highest court ruled in favor of such recognition, thirteen states voted for ballot initiatives designed to thwart such judicial recognition, with 73% of North Dakota voters favoring the initiative.
Two years later, however, after the highest courts in New York and Washington ruled against such recognition, only 52% of voters in South Dakota, demographically similar to its neighbor to the north, favored the initiative.
The American people would rather courts didn't resolve such social issues, preferring the matter be left to the elected legislature.
If Republicans wish to address the gay marriage issue while still appealing to more socially liberal voters, they should ignore RNC Chairman Steele's recent comments. Instead, they should follow the example of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who will press the president's Supreme Court nominee on his judicial philosophy. Should the GOP reframe the issue (as many have tried) as one of separation of powers, with our party favoring a legislative resolution, this can turn this issue to their advantage without unnecessarily antagonizing supporters of same-sex marriage.
And this strategy would be entirely consistent both with the ideals of our party and the principles of the United States Constitution.