RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

British Conservatives' shift on gay marriage puts GOP on the spot

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  September 17, 2011 09:30 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Today’s announcement that the Conservative government in Britain will push legislation to legalize same-sex marriage may shake up politics in the United Kingdom. But for the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher to reverse itself on the issue may have just as significant an effect on politics in the United States.

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.

  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

Editors' Picks

Tickets for T seat hogs?Tickets for T seat hogs?
Why the MBTA should punish riders who needlessly claim more than one seat.
T-shirts and democracyT-shirts and democracy
What souvenir sales teach us about reform in Myanmar
Lessons from Kony 2012Lessons from Kony 2012
Why Invisible Children films are the new textbook of civic engagement.
The Angle's comments policy