“The wedge has lost its edge”

    As recently as 2004, gay marriage was a divisive issue ripe for Republican exploitation, yet now it’s barely a political issue at all. That’s how fast things are changing in this country.Two days ago, President Obama said that his Justice Department lawyers will no longer support the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act – the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a bond of man and woman, bars federal recognition of gay marriages, and permits states to bar recognition of gay couples wedded elsewhere. Until quite recently, any move to dump DOMA would have entailed great political risk – but not anymore. Obama made his move because he’s hip to the shifting zeitgeist.During the past 48 hours, most of the ’12 Republican presidential aspirants have either stayed mum, or, at best, mustered mild rebukes. Mike Huckabee is the exception – he described Obama’s decision as “utterly inexplicable” – but his reaction was pitched to social and religious conservatives who would never vote for Obama anyway. Meanwhile, most Republican congressional leaders said very little. John Boehner merely questioned whether Obama’s timing was “appropriate,” given the fact that “Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending” (an amusing remark, when one considers how much time Boehner’s House has spent obsessing on abortion).The bottom line is, most Republicans seem to understand that they can no longer get politician traction by going after gays. Some GOP lawmakers even voted with Democrats in December to permit gays to serve openly in the military, and Obama has suffered no backlash since. Indeed, the muted response to the demise of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has clearly emboldened the White House to take the next step and abandon its legal support for DOMA. So much for Karl Rove’s old wedge issue. As former George W. Bush strategist Mark McKinnon remarked yesterday, “The wedge has lost its edge.”The arc of DOMA tells the tale. Fifteen years ago, it was enacted by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democratic president who was intent on crafting a centrist image for his re-election race. In 1996, the centrist stance on gay marriage was staunch opposition. Bill Clinton not only signed DOMA, he bragged about it in radio ads (“President Clinton has fought for our values, and America is better for it”).Yet a mere 15 years later, the centrist stance on gay marriage is tolerance. Dick Cheney supports gay marriage, which should tell you plenty. So does Barbara Bush, daughter of George W. So does Ken Mehlman, who ran W.’s 2004 campaign, and Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s campaign. Those strategy guys read the same polls that we do. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center says that 46 percent of independent swing voters now support gay marriage; that may not sound high, but Pew points out that support has steadily grown since 1996. Meanwhile, an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll last August reported that 52 percent of Americans want the feds to legally recognize gay marriage; back in 1996, roughly 30 percent supported such recognition. Elsewhere, the ABC-Washington Post poll reports that support for gay marriage has jumped 10 percentage points since 2003 (from 37 to 47).And in a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll last summer, 57 percent of independent swing voters (responding to a differently worded question) said they believe that gay marriage is constitutional. Most significantly, nearly 60 percent of Americans under age 50 believe that gay marriage is constitutional – which underscores the fundamental fact that, as today’s young people begin to dominate the electorate, gay marriage will become a demographic certainty.In other words, Obama didn’t need to be bold to move against DOMA. He was merely bowing to the inevitability of the new centrism. In a not too distant day, most Americans will wonder what all the fuss was about. Bring it on.——-For those of us who track the infauxtainment shenanigans at Fox News, this story today about Roger Ailes and Rudy Giuliani is arguably the mother lode.Just imagine, for the sake of argument, what would happen if the boss of NBC or CBS was nailed in court documents for coaxing a woman to tell lies in order to protect a Democratic presidential aspirant…an aspirant who also happened to be a close buddy of the network boss; who had even officiated at the network boss’ wedding; and whose presidential aspirations were being covered by the boss’ network. If that ever happened, do you suppose that conservatives would be screaming about Liberal Media Bias?Enough from me. Just enjoy the dish. Bon appetit!

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.