UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Yesterday's crusaders

Anti-gay posturing of the far right may not factor into upcoming U.S. elections

By David Wilson

Six months ago, you couldn’t open a newspaper or tune into the nightly news without bumping up against the U.S. Christian right in the form of candidates falling over each other to woo conservative evangelical voters in the Republican primaries.

One day it’s Michele Bachmann defending the “pray away the gay” clinic she and her husband run, the next it’s Rick Perry declaring himself an overnight born-again in national newspaper ads. Herman Cain finds himself in a sex scandal and launches into an a cappella performance of Amazing Grace instead of answering reporters’ questions. Rick Santorum scorns Barack Obama’s “phony theology,” and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich promotes himself as a defender of traditional marriage.

The Christian right is perceived to have a stranglehold on the Republican party, so Republican presidential candidates perceive a need to ingratiate themselves to it. There’s no denying conservative Christians are a force to contend with. Some polls this year showed that as many as 50 percent of Republicans who voted in the primaries described themselves as born-again evangelicals.

But how do you explain the fact that the only serious candidate who didn’t pander to the Christian right is the candidate who came out on top? Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney began the campaign as a Mormon, and he’s still a Mormon today. Throughout his campaign, he consistently garnered about 30 percent of the evangelical vote. By early May, he had the Republican presidential nomination sewn up, while his ultra-devout opponents were trying to figure out how to pay off their campaign debts.

The Christian right has for years made a lot of noise in American politics, most of it negative. Could it be that its bark is no longer translating into bites at the ballot box?

Obama seems to think so. Just before Romney locked up the nomination, the president issued the biggest dare in the history of post-war American politics. On national television, he announced that he now believes same-sex couples should have the legal right to marry. It was a statement, not an edict — marriage is a matter for states to decide individually. But it was unequivocal and has obvious symbolic power.

Given the cacophony of the primaries, you’d think the Republicans would have exploded in righteous fury. Same-sex marriage cuts to the heart of the “family values” agenda. A few backwater bigots did react with hate and damnation. But apart from tepidly affirming his support for traditional marriage, Romney has been conspicuously subdued. He and his strategists likely realize that a full-fledged election fight over same-sex marriage would distract attention away from Obama’s weak flank — the economy — and risk alienating young Republicans and independents who increasingly view the anti-gay posturing of the far right as yesterday’s crusade. On the other hand, if he sidesteps the issue, Romney runs the risk of alienating the aging but still formidable core of evangelical voters on whom he continues to pin much of his electoral hopes.

All in all, a shrewd move by the president. But this is bigger than tactics. Having tasted hope fleetingly in 2008, Americans who are weary of recession and interminable culture wars have been waiting for Obama to inspire them again. His stand on same-sex marriage is by no means a cure-all for America’s ills, but it is a badly needed tonic. On one level, it simply reflects what most Americans already believe. But, significantly, it also wrests the values agenda from the clutches of the Christian right. In effect, Obama is saying, “Let the Republicans worry about them; the rest of us are moving on.” And finally, the president’s move may restore some hope in politics itself, by showing that the politically astute thing to do can also be the morally correct thing.  

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image