In recent decades, the GOP has mastered getting their constituents to vote against their own economic interests. As Thomas Frank argued in What's the Matter with Kansas?, if you manage to yoke large-scale financial injustice to a boogity-boo "social issue," you'll be laughing all the way to the bank. Frequently used wedge issues in recent memory include abortion, immigration, and the shibboleth "family values," which more or less won the day in 2004.
Now, with gay marriage looking more and more like the defining civil-rights issue of our time, the right is naturally rushing to make a stand on the wrong side of history. (Right where they've been for all the defining civil-rights issues of the past century, incidentally.) An AP story quotes multiple conservative leaders in the wake of President Obama's recent refusal to defend DOMA, indicating that they expect the decision to "galvanize supporters of marriage" (that's straight marriage) in 2012. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins (above) told the AP,
"The president has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging Congress. It is incumbent upon the Republican leadership to respond by intervening to defend DOMA, or they will become complicit in the president's neglect of duty."
The story also quotes Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage:
"This raises the stakes and makes clear the executive branch is not willing to carry out its responsibility… I don't think by any stretch of the imagination the tables have turned on this issue. People in this country know what marriage is."
Is this going to work? Gay marriage was a wedge issue in 2004, but attitudes can change a lot in eight years. An August 2010 national poll conducted by CNN found that, for the first time, a majority of Americans supported a constitutional right to gay marriage; that positive trend, thank reason, seems likely to continue. This scheme might just blow up in the GOP's face.