Here’s the problem facing the social conservatives of the Republican Party: They are confusing their issues, and fighting a war that not only cannot be won, but that is, frankly, wrong.
They certainly don’t see it that way. Many of them truly believe that homosexual activity, same-sex marriage and gender transformation are sins hardly distinguishable from those prohibited by the Commandments. With some of their foundational beliefs crumbling, they think the country is skipping along the road to hell.
But they are making a mistake, and one that could cost the party, and the country, dearly.
Today’s cultural conservatives are waging their own war with humanity when they target gay rights, including same-sex marriage, and transgender issues, including that of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.
Those issues have created a crisis within that part of the GOP, and one for which there will be no happy ending. Just as Americans came to see slavery and racial bigotry as violations of human decency, so is the country coming to recognize that prejudice on matters relating to sexual identity is fundamentally intolerable.
The Jenner story of the past week seemed to function as a kind of trigger, but it is not the only issue. Court rulings throwing out the Defense of Marriage Act and supporting same-sex marriage were disorienting to social conservatives. Jenner’s transformation to a female identity is no less confusing or appalling to them. And even more than slavery – for which defenders managed to locate biblical authorization – issues of sexuality are especially bound up in the fundamentals of religion.
That makes it possible to have sympathy for those people for whom the social environment suddenly seems foreign and hostile, but it doesn’t change the facts: Things have changed and that means politics have changed, too.
According to Pew Research, majorities now say homosexuality should be accepted by society and that the sexual orientation of a gay or lesbian person cannot be changed. A majority of Americans now support gay marriage, and support is rising even among older generations.
Young voters don’t care about preventing same-sex marriage any more than they do about preventing left-handedness. They understand it to be raw prejudice, which they will penalize at the ballot box.
These are not the only issues that raise the blood pressure of social conservatives, of course, and it is fair to draw distinctions among them. Abortion is another matter that they cannot accept but it is cut from an entirely different cloth.
Good people can, do and will hold radically different ideas about the morality of abortion, which is about the actions people take rather than the nature of their humanity. The argument is legitimate.
There is no easy route out of this wilderness for the Republican Party, but the fastest one will be to understand that the changes that have occurred in the country regarding sexuality were inevitable.
It may lose some elections as a result, but it will lose fewer than if Republican leaders alienate a large and growing segment of the voting population that it might otherwise attract to its point of view. That would hurt both the GOP and the country, which relies on two strong parties to keep the other one honest.