With today’s arguments before the Supreme Court there is one clear and overwhelming consensus in the country: full marriage equality is the future. It’s just a question of how long. How many years (months?) until you and your same sex fiance can get married in Alabama and how long till the Social Security Administration recognizes your relationship with your same sex spouse (seems sooner for the latter than the former)? Relatedly, in political terms, it seems clear that gay rights’ days are numbered as a right-wing wedge issue; and it may soon play as a wedge issue on the other side of the partisan divide.But it’s not just gay rights. The rapid flip on immigration reform points to another Republican wedge issue going down the tubes. Racial politics — at least in its traditionally American black/white terms — is a bit less clear cut. But another lesson of 2012 was that the GOP lost big by trying to limit black voters access to the polls.
Marijuana legalization is less clear-cut since it’s never had clear partisan buy-in from the Democratic party. So it was never a wedge issue the same way. But even though it didn’t operate in conventional wedge terms, there’s no missing the same broad generational shift operating with gay rights and pot legalization.
This trend chart from Gallup on pot legalization looks very similar to the one in support of marriage equality. Indeed, the lines appear to cross at right around the same time.
All of this is yet another example of the Judis/Teixeira thesis. One of the many points Judis and Teixeira made in their book (which I really recommend you read) is that the ‘new Democratic majority’ which they predicted in 2002 — and seems to have come into being in the 2008/2012 era — is actually quite similar to the McGovern coalition from 1972: educated professionals, progressives, racial minorities, etc. The problem then was that there just weren’t enough of those people to win an election. Now there are.
But back to the issue of wedge issues. Bashing gays, bashing immigrants, bashing blacks — these bashings all seem to be taking a real beating. We seem to be at a tipping point in a broad social liberalization, driven by dramatically different attitudes of people under and over forty. And yet of the right wing trinity of ‘God, Gays and Guns’, there’s no mistaking that guns seem right there totally undisturbed. For everything everyone said about Newtown changing everything it’s pretty clear right now that it’s changed very little. About the most that seems possible right now is a new background checks law.
So why is that? Why are guns the one hot button topic that’s still as inviolate and charged as it ever was?
One potential answer is that gay rights, pot legalization and gun rights all fit together in a common libertarian-ish ‘I can do what I want’ political constellation. There’s at least something to that. But I’m not sure how much. It may work more in concept than reality. Are the people with increasingly permissive and egalitarian views on gay rights and more comfortable with a non-white majority society the same people who are big on gun rights? Not exactly.
One thing that does capture my attention is the recent Pew study which found that for the first time the majority of gun owners say they own firearms for security rather than for hunting. The gun owning culture seems to be on its own transformative trajectory, just moving on an axis quite different from these other social trends.
I could spin out a dozen theories. But I don’t have a clear explanation I have confidence in.
For now, I just want to point out the incongruity. In Sesame Street terms, one of these things is not like the other. It’s a jarring incongruity.