Is the Christian Right still a power in American politics? The lavish coverage which its partisans and their favorite issues have received during the current Republican campaign certainly leave that impression. Yet all this attention is akin to the dazzling glow of a setting sun. In fact, the Christian Right is a fading force in American life, one which has little chance of achieving its cherished goals.
Yes, pious conservatives earned the underfunded Rick Santorum a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, and, last week, a large gathering of evangelical leaders nodded fervently in his direction. Every GOP candidate still in the race speaks of Planned Parenthood as if it were a band of terrorists and vows to stop the largest and oldest reproductive rights group in the country from winning even a dollar of federal funding—and all of them except Ron Paul has signed a firm pledge to support a constitutional amendment that would essentially ban same-sex marriage. As for the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, who has earned the suspicions of many conservative evangelicals, he has worked tirelessly to ingratiate himself with the Christian Right. Pro-Romney robo-calls in South Carolina currently feature a right-to-lifer from Massachusetts who opens her pitch, “I know you have heard a lot of folks talking about Mitt’s record on life, faith, and marriage while governor of Massachusetts.”
But, whatever their influence on the Republican primary, the Christian Right is fighting a losing battle with the rest of the country—above all, when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage, the issues they care most about. A strong majority of Americans backs abortion in the early months of a pregnancy. If elected president, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Romney would ever sign legislation that could lead to the indictment of millions of women and tens of thousands of physicians for fetal murder. Last fall, even voters in Mississippi soundly rejected a bill that might have done just that.
Meanwhile, support for gay rights is rising, quite swiftly. Same-sex marriage tops fifty percent in some recent polls, and the remarkably placid response to New York’s recent legalization of the practice will make it easier for other states to follow suit. With over two-thirds of Americans now endorsing the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the debate on that once controversial issue is now a matter for historians to analyze.