It looks as if President Obama’s announcement that the Justice Department will stop legally defending the Defense of Marriage Act won’t actually be as controversial as anticipated. According to the New York Times , it “has generated only mild rebukes from the Republicans hoping to succeed him in 2012, evidence of a shifting political climate in which social issues are being crowded out by economic concerns.”
Yet that reading is at odds with the findings from the Pew Study I wrote about yesterday, which showed that the Tea Party is more socially conservative than its reputation . A full two-thirds of Republicans say they oppose gay marriage, and only slightly fewer Tea Partiers hold that view, too. That’s not such a different stat from 2004 , when it was a key “wedge issue” that helped get conservative voters out to vote. (In fact, it’s higher than the 59 percent of Republicans who said they strongly opposed gay marriage that year.)
One thing the latest Pew Study didn’t measure for, though, was the intensity respondents felt about each issue. All other things being equal, a Tea Partier might want to prevent gay marriage, but perhaps it’s not at the top of his list-especially since the culture at large has moved in the direction of accepting gay rights, and railing against them probably isn’t going to bring anyone new into the movement.
The Times article groups abortion in with gay rights, saying it’s no longer an important wedge issue either, but that seems like a too-facile pairing. There has lately been a fresh crop of anti-abortion legislation on both the federal and state levels , as the paper elsewhere reported, which has people on both sides of the aisle whipped into a frenzy. Maybe it’s just that it’s harder to make a budgetary argument about gay marriage, as these bills have done on abortion funding. But I suspect that it’s just that views on abortion have remained basically stable-as they have for years now-while those on gay marriage have rapidly evolved, even if some polling numbers haven’t quite caught up.