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Literate and Illiterate Republicans

couples waiting for marriage licenses at the Washtenaw County, MI clerk's office
Couples in line to receive marriage licenses in Washtenaw County, Mich. Photo by Kelly Kline.

It seems to me that Republicans currently come in two flavors: the kind that can read handwriting on a wall and the kind that can’t.

Michigan’s governor and attorney general are, evidently, the second type.

After a federal judge ruled last month that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, many couples hurried to take advantage of the legal window to say their vows. But the state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, filed a notice of appeal that prompted the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, to stay the judge’s ruling. The state’s governor, Rick Snyder, has said Michigan won’t recognize the marriages that legally took place between the ruling and the stay, at least not while the stay is in place.

Telling couples with legal marriage licenses that the state will ignore their unions, even though the stay issued by the Sixth Circuit happened after the fact, is short-sighted at best, especially when Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the marriages will be recognized by the federal government.

“These Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Holder said. Snyder would have been wise to say the same, but he and Schuette seem determined to forge ahead in a battle their side is already well on its way to losing.

Another example of this Republican blindness to the inevitable can be found in Arizona, where the Legislature passed a bill allowing restaurants, florists and other private businesses to refuse to cater to same-sex couples on the grounds of the business owner’s religious beliefs. But Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed the bill. The state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, also both came out against the legislation, mirroring the growing gap between the two wings of the GOP.

Though Michigan’s Gov. Snyder has made the wrong call, even his attempt to portray himself as fundamentally neutral is telling of the political shift in discourse. “Social issues, generally, I don’t take a position,” he said, according to Politico. “I stay focused on jobs and kids.” Snyder has also taken pains to distance himself from Schuette’s appeal, emphasizing that the attorney general operates independently.

Just because Schuette’s office acts independently, however, doesn’t mean the attorney general’s hands are tied. Attorneys general around the country have refused to defend their states’ gay marriage bans in the face of the growing judicial consensus that such bans are unconstitutional. Contrary to Schuette’s position, an attorney general is not required to defend a statute that is legally indefensible. Holder recently said that it was appropriate for state-level attorneys general to stand aside in “exceptional circumstances,” The New York Times reported. Citing Brown v. Board of Education, Holder said, “If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities.”

Schuette and Snyder’s flavor of Republicanism continues to damage the GOP brand nationally, particularly with young people of all parties and with independents. From a legal perspective, the same-sex marriage ship has long since sailed. Probably within five years, and certainly within 10, the matter will be settled in all U.S. jurisdictions.

But it will take much longer than that for voters to forget the actions of Republican politicians who make a show of standing in the chapel door, saying no to couples who want to affirm their love and share their lives.

The correct response to any couple choosing to tie the knot, as several hundred Michigan couples legally did before the Sixth Circuit’s stay, is to wish them good luck or mazel tov. The appropriate sentiment is never “not in my backyard.” The dwindling number of Republicans who can’t see this are destined to be stuck in the political tar pits. The best their party can do is try not to be caught in the mire with them.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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