Why We Should Be Wary Of Republican Support For Marriage Equality

Conservative Republicans have begun to come out in number with support for same-sex marriage. Senator Rob Portman gained a lot of respect when he came out in support of same-sex marriage because his son is gay. In an Op-Ed Portman wrote, “One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.”

Charles Murray, a conservative political analyst, shocked Republicans by the dozen at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) last week by expressing his support for same-sex marriage as well. In his speech, he explained that his four children, ranging in age from 23 to 43, voted Democrat in the last election. Why? Because they were disenchanted with the Republican party, not because of Romney, but because “They consider the Party to be run by anti-abortion, anti-gay, religious nuts. With gay marriage, I think the train has left the station.”

GOProud's Jimmy LaSalvia, being proudly gay and proudly Republican. via {New Now Next}

GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia, being proudly gay and proudly Republican.
via {New Now Next}

This year, CPAC actively snubbed well known gay Republican groups Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud. Instead, a libertarian group, Competitive Enterprise Institute, got around the exclusion by hosting their own panel entitled “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” and invited Jimmy LaSalvia of GOProud and representatives of other LGBT-friendly Republican organizations to speak.

At the panel, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin said,

I think we’ve forgotten that in order to win the next election, we have to convince people who didn’t vote for us last time. Just getting the people who voted for us last time more excited doesn’t work. I would say if you in this room are not doing something to grow the Republican Party, the Republican Party will die.

It’s a big deal for Republican politicians to come out in support of same-sex marriage after running their chances in the last election into the ground with bigoted campaigns. The GOP is currently a dying party, with most of the party’s support in rich, old, white men. Americans have proven they don’t want to vote in Republicans who are bigoted idiots, or else Todd Akin would have won by a landslide.

Senator Portman's family includes a gay son and really adorable dogs and he's okay with that. via {NPR

Senator Portman’s family includes a gay son and really adorable dogs and he’s okay with that.
via {NPR}

I do believe knowing members of the LGBT community does certainly affect the way you think about allowing them basic civil rights, as Senator Portman pointed out. In fact, because of Portman’s prominence on the subject recently, CNN has even gone so far as to name a new analysis of marriage equality support “The Portman Effect”, meaning, if you know someone who identifies as LGBT, you are more likely to be in favor of marriage equality.

Calling this kind of support “The Portman Effect” is erring on the side of absurd. It’s not particularly groundbreaking for conservatives to say marriage equality is fundamentally conservative. Jon Huntsman had equal rights in his political platform during the Republican primaries. Ted Olson, one of the lawyers fighting against Prop 8 who also worked for George W. Bush, wrote a piece in 2010 about how marriage equality is in line with conservative ideals, and the Young Conservatives started Freedom to Marry after recognizing that marriage equality works with family values, an inherently conservative notion. What is groundbreaking is that this support is coming out after Republicans had such an anti-gay, sanctity of marriage agenda in the last election.

In the interest of full disclosure, please be aware that I am pro-marriage equality and completely in favor of anyone declaring that they support the rights of same-sex couples to get married. Straight people who want to get on the bandwagon are welcome, in my eyes.

However, what is happening with the Republican party’s new support seems to have, at best, ulterior motives to it. Republicans are unabashedly pandering to the lesbian and gay community with this support. They want to be reelected, or even just elected in some cases. Do they honestly believe we deserve equal rights or are they attempting to distort marriage equality to fit into the social framework they’ve constructed around the nuclear family as the highest achievement for American citizens?

If you believe that the end justifies the means, then don’t worry; I do believe we’ll see marriage equality soon. But at what expense?

Sally Kohn wrote on the same subject, “The conservative moral argument for marriage is that marriage is good and good people get married and ‘law-abiding, patriotic, gay Americans’ are good people.”

We are garnering Republican support as long as it looks good for them to be a little progressive to young voters and at the same time, as long as we stick to the conservative definition of and idealization of marriage. There’s a lot of contingencies there. I’m afraid this adherence to the conservative definition of marriage may or may not actually help our cause in the end.

I'm still confused. via {a href="http://www.shutterstock.com">Shutterstock}

I’m still confused.
via {Shutterstock}

Marriage is in many respects a failing institution. Divorce rates in America are at 50% according to the CDC. Will allowing the gays to marry one another revive the institution of marriage, as conservatives in America are touting? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The one thing we can be certain of is that marriage equality certainly can’t hurt heterosexual relationships and won’t cause divorce rates to be any higher than they already are. For example, in Massachusetts, marriage rates are currently higher than they had been before 2004, when same-sex marriage was legalized. But assimilating to the conservative idea of the nuclear family might end up ruining the actual perks of marriage equality if we’re all divorced in the end anyway.

So, why should we fight for marriage equality at all? Because marriage equality affords us unprecedented protections that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for years. The right to do simple things, like be on electrical bills together. The right to do difficult things, like visit our partners in the hospital. The right to do life-changing things, like have protections for our children under the law. The right to do culturally important things, like wear ivory dresses and suits and cry in front of all of our friends and family and sign our names onto a license.

Marriage equality is important because it negates one of the most immediately visible differences that separates gay humans from straight humans: the ability to be with our partners regardless of the gender of the people we love. But marriage equality is not the be-all-end-all of the LGBT civil rights movement. It is a step forward, it is not the entire fight. The conservative framework being constructed here is leaving out a lot of Americans in need of some serious protections that marriage equality simply won’t afford, like single mothers, transgender men and women or people living in poverty. This new married ideal may actually hurt some other minority groups to which many queer people belong, because Republicans are already pushing marriage (not just the same-sex version) at the expense of many other programs, including welfare.

When marriage equality passes, we’ll be able to marry, but at the same time we can also be fired from our jobs or kicked out of our houses in 29 states. What will Senator Portman and Chuck Murray’s support be doing when they can’t attach the keywords “committment” and “conservative values” to these issues? Will they still care that we exist and need protections?

Until Republicans are willing to go beyond accepting same-sex marriage for the sake of their reelection campaigns and instead realize that the entire system is deeply flawed for all members of the LGBT community, we have to keep fighting for true equality, not just the marital kind. For the same-sex couples who can’t wait to put a ring on it, there’s every reason to be excited for this step forward. I just hope all of our newfound allies will still be around when the dust settles and the system still need changing.

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Hansen is the former DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She teaches creative writing at Colorado State University and is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in her free time.

Hansen has written 189 articles for us.


  1. Since when is the nuclear family a bad thing? Isn’t this something that we are striving for the ability to have our own gay version of the nuclear family? I completely disagree with this article. It is the type of over the top feminism that gives feminism a bad name.

    • I don’t think the point is that the nuclear family is a bad thing. I think the point is that marriage equality isn’t the only legislative issue that effect LBGT people. The point is the conservative right isn’t really supporting LGBT people, they are supporting rigid and conservative concepts of the correct way to live one’s life. Will they still be so supportive when it comes to trans* inclusive health care policies, social safety nets for the poor members of our community, or LGBT inclusive sex education in schools? (And those are just a FEW examples) I think the point is they probably won’t.

    • Everything Lexi said about the day to day bread and butter issues for queer people nationwide. All that can’t be forgotten, and I don’t think any of it will be forgotten – I think with new rights to marry rising up in many states, the difference between having the ability to marry in theory but not being able to afford to marry, or to be out at work, or to have one’s gender or sex concerns respected by healthcare professionals or educators is going to be felt pretty damned fast. I think it’s going to serve as a catalyst for the remaining issues, or at least make them clearer. And it doesn’t make us bad feminists (humanists) to be wondering about more than marriage.

      (It makes me shudder, though, to read the words “gay version of the nuclear family.” Glad you want that; I don’t. If I ever did marry it wouldn’t be for that. I tend to think of the nuclear family as a construct to prop up American capitalism. But marriage can have other meanings.)

    • Nat, chill baby. There’s nothing over the top about this article. It’s a very level-headed heads up regarding the Repugs plans to play us for all we’re worth come next election. It’s just cautioning us not to run head long into assimilation without thinking about what’s really going on politically.

      Yay marriage equality and all, for those who are interested, but what about the rest of our lives? You may be able to get married, but be thrown out of housing for being a gay couple…and that’s perfectly legal in most states! We can have homeless nuclear families!

      Assimilation is not the end all be all, true equality regardless of how we organize our personal lives (whether gay/het, male/female, black/white, young/old, rich/everyone else etc) is what really counts, and that requires going against the established norms that mostly don’t serve us but serve old hetero white men.

      A basic truism: If the Republicans like it, it can’t be good for 99% of the population.

      • forgot to add when writing: “whether gay/het, male/female, black/white, young/old, rich/everyone else etc”


        let’s not get distracted by the bright shiny marriage bauble, and remember what equal social justice really includes.

        *i’m not dissing marriage. nothing against anyone getting married.

        • Respect. That’s something I think goes missing in a lot of these conversations. People should be able to visit their life partners in hospital or inherit their partner’s property or be on their health insurance whether or not they are married. People shouldn’t be corralled into arranging their relationships in socially normative configurations because it’s necessary in order to get basic partner rights.

  2. I don’t think anyone is saying that the “nuclear family” is a bad thing, just that there are other forms of relationships and families that are equally as valuable.

  3. This is a brilliant analysis and summary of all my feels about the push for marriage equality.
    Especially this: “When marriage equality passes, we’ll be able to marry, but at the same time we can also be fired from our jobs or kicked out of our houses in 29 states.”

    Marriage equality is a red herring, y’all.

    • On the flip side–if marriage equality is on the books, it will be a lot easier for people to challenge laws that discriminate against people who have same-sex partners.

      That said, that still does not solve all problems the queer community faces.

  4. People, this article is saying,
    “Beware the sneaky Republicans pretending to be in favor of equal Human Rights for all us little Homos, (whom they wanted to stone to death with Biblically justified righteous wrath last year) because they are dying off like the extinct bread they are, and they need our vote.” That’s pretty much all.

  5. I think this is a really great, nuanced, *intelligent* analysis of marriage equality! I pretty much agree with all of it: I’m not opposed to marriage equality, but it isn’t enough. More queer people/ allies need to recognize the need for intersectionality in their own thinking!

    • The danger of marriage equality is that it impedes the everything else that needs to happen. I’m not talking about the resources being poured into the marriage fight rather than combatting homelessness, AIDs, domestic violence, etc.

      I mean that if access to rights are linked to marriage and marriage is available to people in heterosexual and homosexual pairings, then the government thinks its job is done. Forget the single, asexual, anti-marriage, polyamorous folk, or the 52 and rising % of the country that’s unmarried, now we think everyone has access to those rights, so that’s enough. We’re letting the government get by without providing Everyone rights.

  6. It’s not just our vote that they’re trying to earn – we’re a minority, but the many people starting to support same-sex couples. They probably won’t think ahead of marriage because it seems to be our most important goal.

  7. To be honest, I feel like Republicans trying to explain their support for same-sex marriage are pandering to straight voters not queer ones. I don’t think even they think we’ll be fooled this easily, but they still have to say all the stuff about ~traditional family values~ to try to keep their (more) conservative voters from panicking.

  8. “Republicans are unabashedly pandering to the lesbian and gay community with this support. They want to be reelected, or even just elected in some cases.”

    Agreed, but I would also argue that *most* politicians support policy that they think will get them elected, especially when it comes to issues that are very personal and emotional for their voters (gay marriage, abortion, etc.)

  9. I’m highly suspect that the GOP’s sudden flip on gay rights issues is genuine. They’re trying desperately to re-brand themselves. That said, I wasn’t too impressed when Obama or even Clinton had to “evolve” their opinions on gay marriage. That is an insincere cop-out to buy votes. Notice that just before the election campaigns, Obama had a change of heart? I hate being a political betting chip to politicians. It is absolutely dumbfounding to me that my humanity is not reason enough for me to be recognized fully under the law. That is not something that requires an evolution of an opinion to be valid and worthy of full citizenship. If you deny someone their humanity on the basis of prejudice, you’re completely and utterly wrong. Fact.

  10. This article makes a lot of great points, but in the end I disagree. I feel like the increasing republican support for same-sex marriage is genuine, and that it is a positive thing.

    Republicans are not a separate species that exists apart from the rest of the nation – support for marriage equality among the general public has increased at a rapid rate over the past few years, as more and more people realize that queer people are their friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues. Seems like support among republican politicians has increased in the same way – except that many were afraid to voice this support until it the position reached a certain level of popularity (Obama did the same thing). After all, so many of the republicans that have gone on the record as supporting marriage equality have a lesbian/gay family member (or are gay themselves, such as Ken Mehlman).

    I feel like we are finally starting to see the political “center” move leftward, after years of republicans pulling it towards the right. Being defeating in two presidential elections (and numerous smaller elections) has left republicans scrambling to find their footing in a world where straight, white, Christian, men no longer get to unilaterally set the agenda. As a result, we are now seeing republicans begin to shift on issues like marriage equality and immigration reform (we are also seeing them fail pathetically when it comes to women’s issues and reproductive rights, but hopefully they have at least learned a lesson on how NOT to talk about rape).

    I am looking forward to seeing the republican party evolve in a more moderate direction. I probably won’t be voting for any of them, and I won’t often agree with them – but I will at least feel better about my country knowing that all major political parties can agree on a few basic human rights issues.

    That said, I do agree that while marriage rights are very important, there should be much more emphasis on other LGBTQ issues (e.g. housing discrimination, employment discrimination, access to health care services), and particularly issues of transgender equality, which have been but on the back burner for too long.

  11. Any party that claims to be based on family values and yet views Head Start and WIC funding as the most obvious “spending cuts” is, in my mind, inherently debase and degraded. I’m glad if they don’t oppose my family structure because it’s gay, but I care a lot more about how they (I believe willfully) keep poor people poor generation after generation.

  12. Great article! I support marriage equality, but I wish more people were just as willing to advocate for gay rights other than marriage.

    Here’s a really well done (interactive) infographic of different gay rights [marriage, housing, hospital visitation, hate crimes, employment, adoption] done state-by-state by the guardian.


    Definitely worth a look! Try scaling by population for a different perspective.

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