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If Newt Gingrich is the nominee, the GOP loses the marriage debate

by Jeremy Hooper

In 2012, we marriage equality activists already know we will be at the ballot in two states, and we could potentially see contests in several more. The stakes are varied. In some states we'll be tasked with defending equality, in some cases we'll try to reclaim lost rights, and in other instances we'll simply hope to stave off a nasty anti-gay amendment. But in all of these fights, the ultimate goal will be the same. That is: Marriage equality in all fifty states and federally, with all loving, qualified couples afforded the freedom to marry the person of his or her choosing, regardless of gender.

Conversation will be the key. Over the past decade, we've see pro equality polling increase right alongside the number of states where marriage has become more equal. Those of us on the right (as in correct) side of this conversation have been willing and brave enough to stand up and demand to be counted, hanging our portraits of modern families onto the wall of history for all to see. As more Americans view and actually think about our families in human terms, more realize how benign we truly are. Benign, even while the social conservatives continue to paint us into "militant," "radical," "society wrecking" boxes.

To paint their dismissive and/or offensive pictures, the social conservatives have long relied on the moral high ground into which their flag is supposed planted. "We are traditional," they tell us, as they work to deny both past and future changes in the tradition. "We are the values voters," they say, as they push policies that devalue certain taxpayers and their loved ones. "We are protecting the sanctity of marriage," they claim, as they demand their myopic, largely faith-based views find inscription within public policy. "We are better at this marriage thing" is the overall, heterosexist implication.

While there are anti-equality Democrats (and even the current President has yet to sign on to marriage equality), these "values" claims have largely come from one party. The marriage equality polling gap between (D) and (R) is considerable in every single state, with the latter (r )eliably (r )etaining the (r )egression.

If Newt Gingrich is the GOP's nominee for President of the United States, the anti-equality "culture warriors" will suffer their most major setback yet. Right now, it'sScreen Shot 2011-12-05 At 10.39.48 Am typically people on the left who toss around the finer points of Newt's marital past. He's not yet the nominee, and in fact has just recently become a frontrunner, so conservatives haven't had to tackle this conversation in deeper ways. But if Newt Gingrich does find his way to the general election, this is going to be a HUGE conversation piece. I believe it's a conversation piece that would GREATLY help our cause in our 2012 fights and beyond.

Yes, in this Gingrich-as-nominee scenario, the finest GOP spin doctors would be on the case, talking about why his personal experience doesn't really matter in regards to Newt's views on something like the Defense of Marriage Act (which he was instrumental in passing). The party would surely find those evangelicals willing to hit the cable news airwave and talk about how Mr. Gingrich has "repented" of his past "sins." And of course the Republicans would ultimately coalesce around the nominee, with talk about how defeating President Obama matters more than petty squabbles. But honestly, I don't think any of that would matter with the portions of the public that we on the side of basic fairness need to pull our way. In fact, I'm pretty confident that the GOP's continued desire to have this "traditional marriage" conversation, in the "values" way that we all know they'd have it, would be a boon for us in terms of moving that cherished "movable middle."

If, in a theoretical Obama v. Gingrich matchup, the Republican party hangs on to the well-worn "protect marriage" script that we've seen at all other times in the party's past, there will be a sweeping eye roll throughout this nation. President Obama, love him or loathe him, is a family man. Few would deny that. The President has talked often about how "living above the shop" is a major job perk, and of how dinner time is a sacred hour for the Obama Four. There is no credible talk of infidelity surrounding this White House. No popped up names from the past. No signs of strife in the marriage. While none of us know what's going on behind anyone's closed doors, the POTUS, FLOTUS, and DOTUSes come across as family values incarnate. So how much contrived "family values" mileage will the anti-equality conservatives really get out of faulting the President's opposition to the discriminatory DOMA if they themselves are pushing a presidential candidate whose own road to (apparent) marital happiness took two prior trials?

Again: I am never one to underestimate the political spin machine, and I know there will oh-so-many people talking about how the party is still the leader on marriage from a policy standpoint. But come on!! The voting public is seeing right through these kinds of games on all fronts. People are no longer accepting the idea that trickle down economics is a great rain. Citizens will never again de-prefix their unjust war labels simply because flag-pin-adorned politicians tell them to. And when it comes to marriage: The electorate is going to ever-more question a party that continues to hijack the "sanctity of marriage" superiority if they put a thrice-married, multiple-affair-haver at the top of the ticket! And not just the left-leaning electorate: Everyone who thinks about this marriage conversation in a real, organic way.

Which leads to the related question: Will even the hardcore social conservatives continue to defend this party -- and let's get real, the GOP is the party keeping the anti- side of the marriage war alive -- if the GOP goes this direction? Sure, there will be the aforementioned, hand-picked religious surrogates. But overall, with the average Joe or Jane put on an elephant bumper sticker for the party that had a chance to go for a Santorum or a Bachmann but instead went with a Gingrich (while the other two can't get out of the polling gutter)? Forget just the movable middle: Will even the unswayable far-right show up for this party now or in the future if the party admits its "one man, one woman for life" hypocrisy? Or at least in the hyper-motivated numbers that they need in order to win marriage referenda?

I simply do not see any way the social conservatives will dig out of the hole that a Gingrich nomination will put them in. This is a crucial time for that crowd. The "culture war" over marriage is already changing in the favor of equality, regardless of what happens in '12. However, if Newt Gingrich gets this nomination, there will a seismic shift in this conversation -- one that will forever change this national debate. Just wait. The media will have sooooooo much to say on this. Voters in every state will have much to consider. Voters will be forced to weigh words and actions; values and hypocrisy. I truly believe that if Newt goes the distance, the "culture war" scale will be irreversibly tipped.

So in summation: Go Newt.

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