Tom Zirpoli: Court could settle gay marriage issue

The Supreme Court will decide some time this summer - probably late June - about the issue of gay marriage. Specifically, they will decide on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which in 2008 banned same-sex marriage there, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress passed in 1996 to restrict federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex marriages.

Opponents of both laws want the Court to find that gay couples have an equal protection right under the law, making both Proposition 8 and DOMA unconstitutional.

This case presents a challenge for Republicans who were once able to use the gay marriage issue to fire up their conservative base and attract independent voters.

Today, however, while they can still use the gay marriage issue to get their conservative voters to the polls, the issue has turned against them for a majority of independent voters who are turned off by the negative Republican rhetoric on gay marriage. This is especially true among young independent voters who overwhelmingly support gay marriage.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 62 percent of Americans believe that being gay is "just the way they are" vs. 24 percent who believe that being gay is "something that people choose." A CNN poll taken last week found that 56 percent of Americans support gay marriage, including 56 percent of independent voters.

Support for gay marriage increases as the age of the voter decreases. For example, an ABC poll found that 79 percent of young voters under the age of 30 support gay marriage. This is not a good sign for the future of the Republican Party, where only 28 percent say that they support gay marriage.

The Supreme Court could actually help Republicans by declaring both Proposition 8 and DOMA unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court votes in favor of marriage equality, says Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish, Republicans "can say they wish they could continue the fight against gay marriage, but alas, those judicial activists at the Supreme Court have made it impossible." That would take the issue off the table.

However, if the Court upholds these statues and allows each state to set their own marriage restrictions, the issue grows stronger and the Republican's anti-gay policies receive even more attention.

Indeed, the Supreme Court could settle the argument one way or another with a national ruling, or decide to leave the definition of marriage up to each individual state. According to an ABC poll, a majority of Americans on both sides of the issue want the Court to make a broad national decision and not leave it up to the states.

In an effort to strike a more moderate tone on this issue, the chairman of the Republican Party recently stated that while he knew that "our party believes marriage is between one man and one woman, I also know that we have a party that's going to be inclusive and is going to listen to people."

As stated by columnist William Saletan, "The struggle to protect family values from homosexuality is starting to feel a bit lonely."

Eight states, says Saletan, have approved marriage rights for gays and four states have recently defeated anti-gay-marriage laws. But a state-by-state approach by the Court could further divide the GOP as their candidates in blue states would be compelled to defend marriage equality, while candidates in red states would be compelled to oppose marriage equality.

Some conservatives argue that the polls are wrong. Gary Bauer, president of American Values, told Fox News Sunday that "the polls are skewed." Sounds like the same old line used by Republicans when polls showed Mitt Romney losing to President Obama in the last presidential election.

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