Last week, Glenn Beck invited noted atheist libertarian Penn Jillette on his show and publicly broke with harder line social conservatives on the question of gay marriage. Specifically, Beck forthrightly rejected the idea that government ought to be in the business of favoring one form of marriage over another.
"The question is not whether gay people should be married or not, the question is why is the government involved in our marriage," Beck said, reframing the question in a manner that suggested the former question could not be resolved to social conservatives' satisfaction.
Now, as yet another sign that conservative opinion makers are moving away from a hard line stance on the issue, conservative columnist George Will stated, in no uncertain terms, that opposition to gay marriage was on its way out as a potent political force. At the same time, Will expressed doubts as to whether this phenomenon would prevail upon the Supreme Court to rule for or against the practice when it takes up the question of gay marriage early next year.
"This decision by the Supreme Court came 31 days after an election day in which three states, for the first time, endorsed same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Never happened before. Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Now, the question is, how will that influence the court? It could make them say 'it's not necessary for us to go here.' They don't want to do what they did with abortion. The country was having a constructive accommodation on abortion, liberalizing abortion laws. The court yanked the subject out of democratic discourse and embittered the argument. They may say 'we don't want to do that. We can just let the democracy take care of this,'" Will said.
"On the other hand," he continued, "they could say 'it's now safe to look at this because there is something like an emerging consensus.' Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It's all old people."
Watch Will's take below:
As we have documented elsewhere, Will's argument is consistent with polling data showing opposition to gay marriage dropping in every age group, with the speed of that drop accelerating ever faster among young Americans. It could well be that, even if the court refuses to rule on the issue and decisively take it out of the arena of democratic governance, the question will be moot within 10-20 years. That is certainly the conclusion embraced by polling analyst Nate Silver, who charted out how long it would take all 50 states in the union to accept the practice of gay marriage using forecasting models here. Silver's model predicts that the final state to legalize the practice will be Mississippi in 2024, suggesting that in 12 years, the issue would be irrelevant even without a Supreme Court decision.
Of course, there is one bit of irony involved if the Supreme Court does decide to rule that gay marriage is a right protected under equal protection cases such as Loving v. Virginia, and that is that if such a decision were to happen, gay rights activists would almost certainly have at least Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, to thank for the decision, as well as former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olsen, who is bringing one of the suits against California's Proposition 8. In other words, if the issue does go the way that gay rights groups want, it will be because Republicans pushed for it. It is difficult to prefigure what the political fallout from such a decision would be for both parties, however.