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Last weekend, Ireland voted in an overwhelming fashion to repeal Amendment 8 of its Constitution, which forbade abortion. As with everything else in our totemized political culture, this has been hailed by those on the left and bitterly lamented on the right. The whole situation gives me the sensation of déjà vu; as if somehow, we’ve been here before and the same script is stuck on repeat in the iPod of our political lives.
That sense of repetition is due to the fact that every time some culturally significant decision arrives, the same cast of characters wheel out their soapboxes to either rend their garments or crow over their supposed enemies’ defeats. The Obergefell decision was one such obvious flashpoint. It is a decision which I disagree with on the legal merits, but one which contains a larger lesson that political conservatives can learn from. Things didn’t have to end up this way.
Let’s start by looking back a couple of decades, specifically the 1990s. In 1995 Newt Gingrich became the newly minted Speaker of the House, with Republicans having just swept into control of both houses of Congress. They were set to embark on a program of high-minded and ultimately, quite successful political reforms. Conservatives were really feeling their oats, and one of the issues I recall being live in that era was the question of a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This topic was campaign gold for Republicans for the better part of a decade, who frequently ran under the banner of “God, Gays, and Guns,” yet they infrequently did anything about these particular items at that time.