Rumors of the Death of Anti-Gay Marriage Movement Greatly Exaggerated

Some GOP consultants see this as a positive:

“It removes the issue from the Democratic playbook of fundraising scare tactics and political demagoguery and breaks their usual messaging dynamic of, ‘You’re a beleaguered minority; let us protect you from the evil GOP — oh, and here’s your absentee ballot,’” said Florida-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson.

Wilson continued: “Democrats won’t be as happy explaining to gay business owners why Obamacare is crushing them; why the regulatory behemoth in D.C. is burying them in red tape; and why the American economy is still faltering. Republicans take an issue out of the federal domain and let states, churches and society handle it, and let’s stick to a message of growth and opportunity for every American.”

Would a Supreme Court decision actually take the issue out of the "federal domain"? Candidates for federal office running in the states will still have to declare their fealty to one side or the other. And you can bet that pro- and anti-gay marriage partisans will make sure a plank in both parties' platforms reflects their views. Mr. Wilson is as guilty of wishful thinking as Mr. Chait is.

What could easily happen is that the court's rulings -- due out in June -- would galvanize anti-gay marriage advocates, making them more determined than ever to stop the progress of marriage equality at the state level. The reaction to adverse rulings by the court will probably not be as visceral as that following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, but the potential backlash would almost certainly grow the movement and convince more citizens to become activists in the cause -- foot soldiers in the coming struggle in state legislatures.

It will be an interesting battle, and both sides will be well-organized and well-funded. And the prospects for gay-marriage advocates to score a lot of victories over the next two years are not very good. Currently, there are 30 states headed by GOP governors and 17 states where both the upper and lower houses of the legislature are controlled by Republicans. The GOP controls at least one legislative body in seven more states. It certainly isn't a given that gay marriage will not win in any of those states -- any more than it is a given that it will triumph in states controlled by Democrats. But even the most optimistic gay-marriage supporter has to acknowledge the political realities at the grassroots level. Nothing is going to be easy.

Some might argue that no matter what the courts do, no matter what happens at the state level, gay marriage will remain an albatross around the necks of the GOP. The Democrats are no doubt going to try to achieve that goal. And some on the right will try to keep the issue alive at the national level, if only to maintain its visibility.

But once all the excitement dies down and the politicians start concentrating on the things we sent them to Washington to do -- rather than striking poses and proclaiming their sincere change of heart about gay marriage -- one might expect an equilibrium will return to the issue and the intense battle at the grassroots will be joined. Marriage-equality advocates may very well win out in the end. The Supreme Court isn't finished with the issue and the next chance it gets, it may grant gay-marriage advocates their wish.

But until that time, opponents will bide their time -- and keep their powder dry.