Republicans are making a huge mistake if they use results from California’s Proposition 8 to justify a lurch to the right on social issues. Voters narrowly passed the proposition that rolled back marriage equality for gay and lesbian Californians.
Prop 8 passed because the “Yes” campaign changed the subject and scared voters with false information. It alleged threats to religious freedom and school curricula, despite the facts that no church would be required to marry a gay couple and each local school district controls its own curriculum. By distorting the truth, the “Yes” campaign played to decades-old fears that gay and lesbian people seek to “convert” children and are hostile to religious freedom.
Funding by the Mormon Church is the main reason Prop 8 passed. News reports say members of the LDS church provided at least $20 million of the “Yes” campaign’s $35 million, helping sway 70 percent of African-Americans to vote “Yes,” compared with 53 percent of Latinos, and 49 percent support from whites. It’s painfully ironic that a religious denomination that faced terrible discrimination spent $20 million to promote discrimination against gay and lesbian families.
Considering the “Yes” side of Prop 8 received 1.5 million more votes than Sen. McCain, it’s clear many Obama supporters voted in favor of discrimination. Some social conservatives say the GOP can attract these voters by focusing on gay marriage. But California’s 61% support of Obama proves otherwise. Just because a Democrat or Independent opposes marriage equality doesn’t mean he or she will support a Republican candidate who shares their view on that issue.
While we lost an important battle in California, the larger war for equality continues. Make no mistake, momentum is on our side. Eight years ago, a similar measure in California passed by a margin of 22%. This year, it was only four points. We are winning the future: 61 percent of those under age 30 voted “No.” Even among Republicans, support for relationship recognition is increasing. A CBS News poll of 2008 RNC delegates showed 49 percent support for either marriage equality or civil unions.
What does all this mean for the GOP’s future? Inevitably, social conservatives will try to push the GOP further right on divisive wedge issues. Such efforts reflect an intrusive ideology of “Big Government” that has led the GOP over a cliff. Pursuing it further will turn the GOP into a regional party competitive only in the South and Midwest. Instead, let’s demonstrate the success of our core principles in tackling the economic crisis, preserving a strong national defense, and reforming our entitlement programs. By focusing on the real concerns of voters, the GOP will appeal to conservatives, libertarians and moderate voters.
Out of our Party’s election defeat, we can rebuild the GOP on inclusive, conservative and libertarian principles such as limited government, fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and freedom. Like Ronald Reagan, we must focus on kitchen table issues, not divisive social issues. We need to be a Party of the future, not of the past.
Click here to see our prop 8 debate.