The GOP's Future is Pro-Gay Marriage. Get With the Program or Get Left Behind | Opinion

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, many began to worry that gay marriage could be the next right on the chopping block; Justice Clarence Thomas implied as much in a concurring Supreme Court opinion, though the other conservative justices disagreed. The worry about gay marriage is to my mind largely unfounded, but it prompted Democrats to bring forth legislation enshrining gay marriage into federal law. And that has forced a reckoning among Republicans.

The internal warfare comes thanks to Democratic leaders introducing the Respect for Marriage Act. The legislation repeals a federal law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, enshrines gay marriage federally, and requires states to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. The Respect for Marriage Act presents a headache for congressional Republicans, who have largely avoided the issue since the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling establishing same-sex marriage nationwide took it out of the political spotlight.

Ultimately, 47 Republicans joined Democrats to pass the legislation out of the House, with 157 Republicans voting against the bill. Now it heads to the Senate, where it needs 10 Republican votes to get to President Biden's desk.

Five prominent Republican senators have already publicly voiced their likely support, a group that includes moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski as well as more hardcore conservatives like Ron Johnson.

two men get married

More may soon follow, but the exact fate of the Respect for Marriage Act remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that, even if many holdouts currently remain in Congress, the future of the Republican Party is one that's pro-gay-marriage.

In 2021, for the first time in American history, polls from both Gallup and the Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Republicans supported gay marriage. The trend among Republicans continues in a positive direction on this issue, especially among the young voters who will determine the future of the GOP.

You don't have to take my word for it. Another 2017 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that young Republicans were "more than twice as likely as senior Republicans to favor same-sex marriage."

The Pew Research Center had a similar finding back in 2014. Their survey found that 61 percent of Republicans under 30 supported gay marriage, in stark contrast to just 27 percent of Republicans over 50.

These specific polls measuring the intra-GOP generational divide are a few years old, but from anecdotal experience and broader polling, I think it's safe to say that young Republicans continue to overwhelmingly support gay marriage.

It's not a coincidence that many of the 47 House Republicans who voted in favor of the recent gay marriage legislation were young, millenial GOP leaders like Rep. Nancy Mace, Rep. Peter Meijer, and Rep. Kat Cammack. Even some young Republicans who voted no on the specific legislation over various concerns, like Rep. Matt Gaetz, have otherwise stated their support for legally recognizing gay marriage.

Meanwhile, most of the elderly, Baby-Boomer members of the Republican congressional caucus can be found among the list of "nay" votes. It's certainly not a black-and-white divide among generations, with some folks on either side, but the trend among young Republicans is clear.

"I absolutely do think that this is a generational divide," Congresswoman Cammack, a Florida Republican, told me in a recent podcast interview. "It's not up to the government to determine what happiness looks like for a person. This is where government needs to get the heck out of our lives. Our generation, millennials and Gen Z [Republicans] in particular, we want as little government as possible... and that's really the direction I think the Republican Party is headed."

"I think it was the right choice from a limited government standpoint, from a liberty standpoint, and frankly from avoiding any circumstance where chaos could come down the line," Meijer said in a video explaining his vote.

No single figure better illustrates the changing winds on gay marriage within the GOP than former President Donald Trump. Setting aside his many other faults and the controversy over his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Trump was never a homophobe—if anything, he pivoted the GOP in a pro-gay direction. Don't forget that the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage nationwide. Meanwhile, Trump made history as the first president to enter office supportive of gay marriage, saying in Jan. 2016 that it was "settled" and he was "fine" with it.

Trump did enact controversial and arguably discriminatory policies on other LGBT issues, but there's no denying the fact that he helped make support for gay marriage mainstream in the GOP. And that's a good thing.

Socially conservative Republicans can have whatever personal, religious beliefs about marriage they want. Their churches should never be forced to perform same-sex marriages if that violates their faith.

But if the GOP wants to keep step with young Republicans and truly stand for individual liberty and limited government, its future has to be one that's broadly supportive of marriage equality.

Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of BASEDPolitics.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.