No, Mr. Eastwood – he of that empty chair used as a prop in Tampa, Fla. – has not shucked his generally conservative ways. But he has joined with more than 100 other conservatives and Republicans who recently came out for gay marriage, among them former governors, GOP administration senior officials, and prominent right-leaning pundits.
But the news does indicate an important shift among conservatives on this hot-button social issue, particularly among younger voters for whom same-sex marriage is no big deal – a political demographic the GOP badly needs to woo. Or as the Pew Research Center puts it, “Millennials are almost twice as likely as the Silent Generation to support same-sex marriage.”
And if nothing else, it may signal a tipping point in public attitudes just as the US Supreme Court is about to decide two critical cases: the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage.
Polls indicate that the country is “evolving” on the issue at least as rapidly as Mr. Obama last year said he was. In California, a new Field Poll has California voters approving of same-sex marriage by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 (61 percent to 32 percent).
“This represents a complete reversal in views about the issue from 1977, when The Field Poll conducted its first survey on this topic, and is the highest level of support ever measured by the poll,” the organization reported this week. “Approval of allowing marriage between two people of the same gender includes majorities of men and women, voters in all racial and ethnic groups, and Californians living in each of the major regions of the state. The only subgroups where majorities remain opposed are registered Republicans and voters who classify themselves as conservative in politics.”
The Republicans who filed a friend of the court brief in the DOMA case before the Supreme Court examined their deeply held convictions about the basis for marriage. In the end, they concluded, “There is no legitimate, fact-based reason for denying same-sex couples the same recognition in law that is available to opposite-sex couples,” and they found that “marriage is strengthened, not undermined, and its benefits and importance to society as well as the support and stability it gives to children and families promoted, not undercut, by providing access to civil marriage for same-sex couples.”
“As a conservative concerned with stabilizing families to rely less on government aid, I have been convinced: I've been worrying about the wrong thing,” he wrote this week on the Daily Beast. “Stopping same-sex marriages does nothing to support families battered by economic adversity. Instead, it excludes and punishes people who seek only to live as conservatives would urge them to live. Treating same-sex partnerships differently from husband-wife marriages only serves to divide and antagonize those who ought to be working together.”
Other elements of US society have weighed in similarly.
In their legal brief regarding DOMA, a group of some 200 businesses and government entities said the federal law “puts us, as employers, to unnecessary cost and administrative complexity” while also “[forcing] us to treat one class of our lawfully married employees differently than another, when our success depends upon the welfare and morale of all employees.”
“As a marriage advocate, the time has come for me to accept gay marriage and emphasize the good that it can do,” he wrote. “Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.”