Religious right looks beyond gay marriage to next battles: ‘We are in a war’
Hundreds of conservative Republicans who gathered for the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference this week in Washington see a conflict raging across the United States pitting their faith and family values against liberal encroachment fueled by President Barack Obama.
Marriage sanctity has been a pillar of that platform, but five months before mid-term elections and 18 months before the 2016 presidential campaign, many Christian conservatives are looking beyond gay marriage to the next battlefronts in a sociopolitical struggle they hope to win at the ballot box.
The far-right movement, whose torch is carried in Congress by the likes of Senator Ted Cruz and on America’s backroads by 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum, has failed to stem the tide of same-sex marriage rights that has now reached 19 of the 50 US states.
Obama himself recently highlighted the progress, recalling that 10 years ago, “maybe no single issue divided our country more than same-sex marriage.”
“In fact, the Republican Party built their entire strategy for 2004 around this issue,” and successfully passed amendments banning gay marriage in 11 states,” he added.
But hearts and minds have changed, he said, adding “here’s a good bet: they’re not going to try the same strategy in 2014.”
Whatever approach they choose, grassroots conservatives will be courted by Republican 2016 White House contenders, and several potential candidates, including Cruz, Santorum and Senator Rand Paul converged on the convention to firm up their far-right credibility.
“There’s a war on Christianity going on and sometimes you’re being asked to pay for it,” Paul told the crowd Friday, referring to US aid to Pakistan and violent extremists in Syria who have killed or threatened violence against Christians.
But some conceded Obama’s prediction that opposing same-sex marriage no longer ensures political victory.
“They are winning the war” over gay marriage, Religious Freedom Coalition chairman William Murray said of the Democrats.
“It’s just not an issue that politically can be done anymore,” the 68-year-old told AFP, adding that US courts will take the next key steps.
“It’s become a Hollywood issue, and I don’t know what Hollywood will promote next,” he sneered: “polygamy or sex with dogs.”
– ‘Pro-life generation’ –
Young Conservatives Coalition president Chris Malagisi said Republican 20-somethings are more accepting of gay marriage.
“I don’t know if social issues will be the primary thing in 2016. Foreign policy seems to be front and center right now,” he said.
But if a family values issue rises to the top, Malagisi predicted it would be abortion.
“This is the pro-life generation,” he said, citing polls showing young Americans are increasingly anti-abortion.
Lila Rose, president of pro-life advocacy group Live Action, painted the ideological “great battle” in blunt terms: “The culture of death versus the culture of life.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, recently embroiled in a local scandal that may have dented his presidential ambitions, told the conference he prided himself on being the first pro-life governor of his state since the Supreme Court case upholding abortion rights 1973.
But he stressed the religious-right platform ought to show compassion for the less fortunate.
“From the womb until natural death, we need to be there even for those who stumble and fall,” Christie said.
Even Santorum, while insisting “children need mothers and fathers,” largely steered clear of the gay-marriage debate, framing the ideological battle in socioeconomic terms.
“We need to be the party of the worker, not just the party of business,” he said, in a thinly veiled slight of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a wealthy venture capitalist who showed questionable concern for America’s struggling lower classes.
“We’re not going to win many elections if people don’t think we care about them.”
Monica Crowley, a talk-radio host and former Nixon administration aide, opened the conference by blasting Democrats for their “24/7 war” against religious freedom and economic liberty.
“Leftists are at war with America, with the American Constitution, with American free-market economics, with American values,” she said. “That fundamental transformation is nearly complete.”