The British Conservative Party has long been a model for Republicans; GOP presidential candidates invariably cite Churchill and Thatcher as heroes for articulating the fundamental tenets of conservatism. The political and intellectual links between the Republicans and the Conservatives — bolstered by transatlantic conservative think-tanks and the Murdoch media empire — are far greater than the GOP ties with any other right-leaning party. This relationship seemed to only strengthen after the election last year of David Cameron, a charismatic Conservative equally committed to slashing government budgets and armed interventions in the Middle East. It’s no accident that during a July visit to London Mitt Romney rushed to have his picture taken with Cameron.
Now Cameron has decided that same-sex marriage fits just fine with his party’s cherished conservative values. The question is, will the reversal force Republicans into rethinking their position on gay marriage — or for that matter, their longstanding relationship with the Conservative Party?
While both parties share much in common, a key difference is that social conservatives — a strong contingent in the US — are not a factor in British politics. Same-sex marriage remains taboo to Christian conservatives, a constituencies that no GOP contender wants to alienate.
There are a few rumblings from some more libertarian-leaning conservatives in the US that it might be time for the party to moderate its opposition to same-sex marriage. GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has stated that he supports civil unions, which are still anathema to the religious right. Four Republicans voted yes when the New York Senate legalized gay marriage earlier this year. But Huntsman is polling at 1 percent nationally, and the New York Republican Party is one of the last refuges of the moderate Republican.
In contrast, it’s too soon to tell what reaction prominent Republicans, who idolize Thatcher and have busts of Churchill on their desks, will have. If nothing else, it will make it awkward to praise Cameron’s foreign and fiscal policies on one hand while still condemning his assault on traditional marriage.
Despite the historical ties between the two parties, the shift by the British Conservatives to support same-sex marriage probably won’t lead to a sudden change of heart in the GOP. But their reversal shows how the political momentum for same-sex marriage is growing in the Western world, and signals that the Republican Party’s stance is growing increasingly out of step with even its closest ideological peers.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images: British Prime Minister David Cameron and former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London in 2010.