Josh Barro makes a very interesting and compelling argument that if the Supreme Court ruled that there was a federal constitutional right of gay people to marriage equality, the big winners politically would be the Republicans. I think he’s probably right:
An expansive court ruling would settle the gay-marriage issue for good, eliminating the need for 20 years of state legislative fights that will be painful for gays and hugely politically damaging to the Republican Party.
Think about what will happen if the Supreme Court does not find a constitutional right to gay marriage. Popular support for gay marriage will continue to rise. A Washington Post / ABC poll out today has support at 58 percent, up from 37 percent in 2004. The trend toward support is accelerating, and support will probably reach two-thirds within this decade. But 30 states have constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriage; repealing these will take time and public effort, and they will persist long after they are unpopular.
Republican politicians will be in an uncomfortable situation: The remaining same-sex marriage bans will be very unpopular, but many in the conservative base will continue to favor the bans, and many Republican state lawmakers will vote against repealing them. And even after marriage equality becomes a settled issue in the north, Republicans will have to deal with the embarrassing problem of southern Republican politicians and voters clinging to their anti-gay laws — much in the way that the retrograde racial politics of some southern Republicans have created national branding problems for the party in recent years…
A Supreme Court decision imposing gay marriage nationwide will not only make this problem go away, but it will also give Republican politicians a useful scapegoat to impotently shake their fists at. They 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. And then, gradually, everyone who cares about stopping gay marriage will grow old and die, and we can stop talking about the issue.
It’s hard to argue with that. In only ten years, public support for marriage equality has flipped so strongly that supporting equality, the political kiss of death only a decade ago, is now a positive for a campaign, and that effect grows stronger all the time. The same is true in the other direction, I think, with Roe v Wade. If the Supreme Court were to overturn that ruling, the chief political beneficiaries would be Democrats.