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Ron Gerling (L) and Darrin Martin celebrate in San Francisco, California, after the United States Supreme Court's ruled on California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act June 26, 2013.
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Right side of history

Source: Corbis

The Road to Marriage Equality 

The Losers' Next Move

Why you should care

The fight against LGBT rights is moving from legalizing gay marriage to protecting religious freedom. Arizona could be just the beginning.

This editor’s pick first appeared on January 29, 2014.

Nobody likes a loser. More important, nobody likes to be a loser. And now that public opinion in America has largely evolved toward supporting gay marriage, those stalwarts who were against marriage equality have been left behind in the dust. So long, suckers?

Well, sort of.

The fight against gay marriage has dramatically shifted, and will continue to do so. The battle lines originally drawn demarking sides on LGBT rights have been blurred — and the way the battles are strategically planned has changed. This transformation is due to a host of reasons, all of which have to do with one another. For starters, public opinion on gay marriage has done a 180, as state after state declares LGBT nuptials legal, and the people who are turning voting age this year were only 8 years old when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. This is not to say that everyone is all about the gays (cough, Phil Robertson), but it is easy to see a transformation that has happened in the United States, made all the more apparent with last year’s Supreme Court ruling repealing part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Anti-gay protestors during the day with large anti-gay signs

Source: Corbis

Supporters of California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage protest outside the California Supreme Court in San Francisco, September 2011.

So what happens to all those people who were adamantly against marriage equality? And in particular, to Republicans who made the gay marriage fight a significant part of their platform? With elections coming up in 2014 and presidential campaigns leading up to 2016 — will the party itself finally do an about-face on this issue?

”Nobody likes to be fighting a losing battle — and certainly if you’re talking about the Republican party. They want to win elections, and the country has shifted on this issue,” says John Corvino, the chair of the philosophy department at Wayne State University. He’s written and debated on gay rights and co-authored a book with famous gay marriage opponent Maggie Gallagher. He says gay marriage opponents recognize that in terms of legal status, the gay marriage debate is likely done.

You will see the discussion of the meaning of marriage move away from the political sphere and more to faith communities.

Gallagher herself recently said she thinks the Supreme Court will “impose” gay marriage in all fifty states in the next two years, a view shared by many liberals and conservatives alike, particularly with the recent federal cases involving Utah and Oklahoma. If SCOTUS does indeed make a constitutional ruling in 2016, this issue would be front and center during the presidential elections.

And as public opinion changes, so do political platforms. So why hasn’t the Republican party announced a change yet? A group of very socially conservative Republicans may be to blame.

”You have this very loud vocal minority in the Republican party that is holding the party hostage on this issue,” says GOProud founder Jimmy LaSalvia. This month he renounced his affiliation with the party because of how out-of-step he felt Republicans were with Americans. He says until more Republicans ”denounce the anti-gay industry among their ranks” people will think all Republicans hate gays — which is not true.

Jimmy at podium with GOProud poster behiind him

Source: Washington Blade/Michael Key

GOProud founder Jimmy LaSalvia

The stubborn social conservatives who refuse to stop fighting are adjusting their tactics. “Now they are the ones on the defense,” says David Lampo, author of A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights. He adds that all the dire consequences ultraconservatives pitched about the world ending if same-sex marriage passed haven’t come true. (Surprise!) So now gay marriage opponents are pivoting their focus to hone in on religious liberty.

“They are protecting people’s rights to discriminate based on religion,” says LaSalvia. The conversations are about whether a baker should be forced to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding or whether a photographer has the right to decline taking pictures of a gay wedding. ”I think you will see the discussion of the meaning of marriage move away from the political sphere and more to faith communities,” says Corvino. He explains families will want to convey their view of marriage to their children. “I think part of it is shifting to battles that they think they can win.”

A similar conversation has centered around the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which could be a foreshadowing of what will happen with the gay marriage debate. Religious exemptions were a key part of arguments when ENDA was debated in the Senate last year.

What does this mean for the GOP? Have the marriage equality opponents in the party done too much damage by waiting too long to get on the right side of history? Depends on who you ask. Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, doesn’t think so.

“I truly feel like we are about to ride a real wave of equality in the Republican party, and those individuals who oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians or those who are blatantly anti-gay, are really in their death throes right now,” says Angelo.

Here’s hoping.

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Meet The Author Lorena O'Neil

Lorena covers religion, LGBT rights and feminism. She is also unusually fascinated by Instagram dictators.

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