This past weekend, I attended a workshop on the future of social conservatism. Though this was a somewhat odd experience for someone with my politics (which I stated openly), I’m determined not to get lazy by only talking to people I agree with. In the end I learned a lot and, I hope, contributed at least a little.
What surprised me most at the conference was that more than one speaker casually referred to opposition to gay rights as a losing issue for social conservatives—one that they’d have to abandon in the foreseeable future in favor of something else. Nobody spoke up in loud dissent, and nobody called for distinguishing same-sex marriage from other gay rights issues.
I’ve long predicted that this shift would occur. Gay marriage now seems to have majority support, or close to it, with growth in that support accelerating over time. (A model designed by Nate Silver a couple of years back predicted that even a majority of Kansans won’t back a ban in 2015.) I still think that in a generation the Right will try to obscure the fact that it ever opposed Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell.
But now is now, not a generation from now. Three months ago, Tim Pawlenty in his quest for conservative votes was forced to give Democrats a wedge issue by promising to bring back DADT, which is overwhelmingly unpopular except on the Religious Right. (The ad writes itself: “Tim Pawlenty supports firing soldiers in wartime because of what they do in their private life. Call Tim Pawlenty and tell him…”). So I guess I was surprised to see some intellectual leaders of social conservatism throw in the towel this soon. Even if the movement’s elites are willing to do so, I see the religious Right base insisting on an anti-gay stance for quite some time. (Nate’s model has Mississippi holding out on gay marriage until 2024.)
Thoughts? Has conservative elites’ discomfort with the issue become a widely-discussed trend? Has such discomfort been talked about in religious Right circles? Has there been violent pushback?
Update: The president of Focus on the Family has said it pretty bluntly. Given that 70 percent of young people oppose his position, and though he deeply regrets the fact, when it comes to marriage equality “we’ve probably lost that.”