In just three months, same-sex couples across the country could be exchanging golden rings and sacred vows under a newly minted right to marry. These nuptials are dependent on the opinions of nine Supreme Court justices, but if the wedding bells do ring and the rainbow flags fly high with pride, one critical question will remain: what are social conservatives supposed to do about it?
Social conservatives hope that the court upholds California’s voter approved, constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, thereby leaving the question of marriage to the states. Under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
In laymen’s terms, under the founding fathers’ framework, the states are separate laboratories of democracy where different peoples can craft their own laws and experiment with their own ideas.
Our Constitution is social conservatism’s salvation. Many of today’s most sensational social issues are not addressed in the Constitution, so under the Tenth Amendment, state governments are free to enact statutes that reflect the morality of their constituents. This is why Maryland can legalize same-sex marriage, even though it is forbidden in Virginia. Moreover, already federalized moral issues, like abortion, wouldn’t be as persistently contentious if socially conservative states were permitted to prohibit it.
Over the past few decades, federal measures aimed at curbing issues such as abortion and same-sex rights have been uniformly met with the cry of “my constitutional rights are being encroached upon.” This form of rhetoric is extremely powerful even when it’s not true.
Attempts to utilize federal power to stop same-sex marriage, abortion and recreational drug use have resulted in the characterization of Christian conservatives as self-righteous busybodies, driven by their desire to impose their morality on everyone else.
Ironically, the same social liberals who make this charge are equally guilty when they advocate for the creation of rights that are absent from the Constitution, like the right to abort or to marry a person of the same sex.
However, recent developments should cause social conservatives to pause and look at the data. According to Nate Silver, the New York Times’ revered pollster wunderkind, an average of 51 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while only 42.5 percent oppose it. Under these circumstances, the addition of an amendment to the federal Constitution banning same-sex marriage is highly unlikely. A similar amendment aimed at outlawing abortion has been gathering dust in Congress for decades and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Federalizing social issues is no longer an option for moral minority.
Even though Republicans are weak as a national party, they do possess one major advantage: state governments. The G.O.P. currently controls 30 governorships and dominates 26 state legislatures. With the passage of tough anti-abortion laws in Arkansas and North Dakota, the G.O.P.’s social conservatives are beginning to recognize the magnitude of their state power. Social conservatives have over two dozen laboratories of morality at their disposal, and they are starting to use them.
Social conservatism has been weakened by a more diverse, more pluralistic, and less religious national electorate, but at the state level they can make a difference.