It’s tempting to imagine that the abrupt end to the fight for marriage equality will ultimately prove to be a godsend for frustrated Republicans. Same-sex marriage enjoys the backing of a huge, youthful political movement, and, before the Supreme Court made it legal nationwide, it was becoming the kind of issue that could seal a politician’s fate with a huge swath of voters. In settling the debate by fiat, the Court might also have saved Republicans from having to wage the alienating opposition to marriage equality for several more years.
Though the Court had the power to end that fight mercifully, it could do nothing about the fact that many conservatives opposed marriage equality because they believe gays and lesbians are inherently defective, and thus couldn’t prevent the energy conservatives have spent battling marriage equality from spilling over into other issues.
Just this week, for instance, the Boy Scouts decided to change its longstanding policy and allow gay men to lead amenable scout troops. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who announced his presidential candidacy on Monday, responded by saying he liked things better the way they were before, because the blanket ban on gay scout leaders “protected children.”
There are two ways to interpret Walker’s statement, both of which speak to the view that same-sex marriage resistance is more than just an expression of concern for the traditions of a particular institution. If you believe that banning gay people from Boy Scouts “protects children,” then you either believe discredited caricatures of gay men as child predators or you believe homosexuality and homosexuals are unsavory things that children should be “protected” from categorically, like drug addiction or verbal abuse.
The movement to make the Boy Scouts a more tolerant organization may not be as large or public facing as the movement to force states to recognize same-sex marriages. But it’s still a big staging ground for the more diffuse fight over how our society should treat gays and lesbians generally. And because the question at hand doesn’t touch on the nature of the Boy Scouts as an institution, it’s much harder for conservatives to disguise deprecatory views of LGBT people themselves behind an alleged concern for institutional continuity.
Which is all to say, Republican politicians will still have plenty of opportunities to treat gays and lesbians like aberrant miscreants. The ongoing partisan disagreement over LGBT equality will gather at smaller focal points, but the overall political valence of the issue won’t disappear anytime soon.