Why Republicans Need to Support Gay Marriage: Because It's Right

Toby: We'll get whacked in what? At least . . .

Sam: Three congressional districts. Dade County.

Toby: Those seats are gone.

Josh: Not to mention the fact that it's wrong.

Sam: Plus that.

~ Aaron Sorkin, "Pilot," The West Wing

In their recent report in TIME on the GOP's recent self-assessment, the so-called "Growth and Opportunity Project," Michael Scherer and Zeke Miller reported on the changes that some in the Republican Party, particularly GOP Chair Reince Priebus, insist need to be made for the Republican Party to be a viable political entity moving into the future. They include moderating the party's voice on cultural issues, reaching out to minority voters, embracing immigration reform, and, above all, offering inclusion to those who are in sympathy with some if not all of the party's platforms. "Our 80 percent friend," Priebus concludes, "is not our 20 percent enemy."

People don't have to oppose gay marriage, say, if they believe in smaller government and more individual freedom. (In fact, if one believes in smaller government and more individual freedom, one probably shouldn't support government interference in who can marry.)

I support this kind of soul-searching in the Republican Party. (And the Democratic Party. And among Libertarians, Anarchists, and Jedi, for that matter.)

But I support it not as a narrow focus on electability (which, frankly, is the reason for this GOP report and others like it in any party), but as part of a larger conversation about doing what is right instead of being on the Right, about enacting laws that respect human dignity and nurture strong families.

Republicans polled a million and a half fewer votes nationwide in the 2012 general election, a trend that will accelerate as the core of the party ages and minorities become majorities in many places across the U.S. But nowhere is the country moving more quickly away from the Republican base than on the issue of gay marriage. This week's TIME cover article reports that—although we await legal rulings from the Supreme Court on the validity of laws enacted to restrict or oppose gay marriage—that train has left the station. As David von Drehle writes in that article, "Exit polls in November showed that 83 percent of voters believe that same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide in the next five to ten years, according to a bipartisan analysis of the data. Like a dam that springs a little leak that turns into a trickle and then bursts into a flood, the wall of public opinion is crumbling."

When you checked your Facebook feed during Holy Week (during the oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court) and discovered red equals signs for many of your friends' portraits—or saw that picture and wondered what it was—what you were seeing was an idea whose time has come, an idea that will eventually seem to all of us not simply legally right and politically expedient, but morally correct. My friend Phyllis Tickle argued in her 2008 book The Great Emergence—and in a zillion speaking engagements since—that Christians who accept the biblical rejection of homosexuality represent the final great debate about reading the Bible literally, and fifty years from now, we will all know the truth of her prediction.

Christians rejected the biblical advocacy of slavery. Christians have (for the most part) rejected the Bible's statements on the inherent inferiority of women. Christians have (for the most part) rejected the Bible's call to genocide against the unfaithful. And for years, progressive Christians have rejected the culturally-conditioned prejudices of the biblical writers on homosexuality. (See for example, my column on President Obama's recent theological reasoning for gay marriage.)

Now, many conservative Christians, particularly young men and women who have grown up among openly gay friends and older men and women who love their gay children and grandchildren, can no longer reconcile the harsh words of the Bible with their experience of gay people as fully human and equally beloved by God.

I know this journey well; in the course of my life, I have gone from a homophobic conservative Christian raised in a small town to a person who recognizes that the gay men and women I have known are often more faithful to God and to those they love than I have been.