Over the last two days the Supreme Court has been hearing cases on the issue of same-sex marriage. Although the two cases they heard were different and the rulings they issue will impact vastly different aspects of the gay marriage, the two cases are obviously connected.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against the California ban on same-sex marriage known as Prop 8, after an appellate court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. On Wednesday, the court heard arguments pertaining to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and how it denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Despite the legal circumstances and specifics of each case, it was clear from the questions the justices asked of each side that the underlying questions of judicial activism and the social effects of a pro-gay marriage ruling were as important the specifics of the cases themselves.
Despite the tone of hesitance that seemed to define the two days of oral arguments, one thing that is clear is that a broad ruling on the unconstitutionality of banning gay marriage would provide sorely needed aid to an ailing Republican party.
Poll after poll reveals that even if the Supreme Court refuses to issue a bold and moral decision on the rights of gay couples, time will make it a political non-issue. In the last ten years, polls have revealed that public opinion advantage that gay marriage opponents enjoyed in 2003 is roughly the same advantage that advocates of marriage equality enjoy today.
The issue of gay rights and marriage equality is quickly becoming one more issue on which the Republican Party and their base are out of touch with the average moderate voter. Given that this division will only widen as a generation of older voters who tend to oppose marriage equality will die, and a generation of younger people turn 18 and register to vote, a broad supreme court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage would potentially relieve the Republican party of a wedge issue that turns off a demographic of voters that republicans lost by 22 points in the 2012 presidential race.
Ideologically, of course, a broad ruling in favor of marriage equality would upset the members and supporters of the Republican Party. This misses the bigger political picture, however, because the poll numbers plainly indicate that even if a fraction of the younger supporters of marriage equality become more conservative and oppositional, as they get older the trends are still frankly unstoppable. A broad ruling now, assuming that it would calm the anti-homosexual rhetoric that turns many young voters off from the Republican Party, would prevent the Republicans from having to spend another generation fighting a political battle that they simply cannot win.