Last Tuesdays March for Marriage contained many of the standard elements for a socially conservative protest march. There were young families pushing strollers, some Catholic parishes that rented buses, youthful nuns praying. In short, it was easy to view as a smaller scale version of the March for Life.
But one thing was conspicuous about the participants: It was a majority-minority group. The March for Marriage had without a doubt the most racially diverse crowd that I had ever seen associated with a right-of-center political cause. On the Mall, you would hear Spanish being spoken behind you, an African-American gospel group singing in front of you, and members of an Asian-American church standing beside you.
Most noticeable was the outsized presence of Hispanic Evangelicals. Many were associated with New York State Senator Ruben Diazs church. Diaz is notable as the only Democratic senator who voted against the 2011 bill that redefined marriage in his state. He and his associates chartered more than thirty buses down from New York for the occasion. Diaz and several other Hispanic Evangelicals gave the event a heavily Spanish accent, complete with a translator on stage.
Diazs constituents in the Bronx voted almost unanimously for both Barack Obama for president and Diaz for state senator in 2012, despite major differences on social policy. A recent article by Michael Warren in the Weekly Standard notes that the small but growing population of Hispanic Evangelicals is one of the truly persuadable voting groups in national elections. It is estimated that George W. Bush ran a whopping 30 percentage points better with Hispanic Evangelicals than either John McCain or Mitt Romney.
Underneath all the conventional explanations for Mitt Romneys defeat in November was the record non-white support for Barack Obama. Twenty-eight percent of voters were racial minorities , and they favored Obama to Romney by a four to one margin. This was far more important the oft-cited gender gap (Romney did better with white women than Bush did in 2004) or the youth vote (Romney won the white eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-old vote 51 percent to 44 percent).
There have been two main pieces of advice given to the Republican party after its 2012 defeat: Win over more minority voters and minimize social issues. These notions contradict each other. If there is anything currently present within the GOP that non-whites are attracted to, its precisely the social issues that so many are convinced are an electoral albatross.
That said, the task will not be easy. The social conservatism of minority groups is often overstated; Proposition 8, the constitutionality of which was argued before the Supreme Court the day of the March for Marriage, was only slightly more likely to be supported by Hispanics than not. And as has been demonstrated frequently with African-American voters, agreement on one issue alone is not enough for a change in political partisanship.
The American right has to come to terms with the fact that the electoral coalition that brought Ronald Reagan to the presidency no longer exists. Demographic changes have ended the easy confidence that America is a center-right nation. The Republican party either has to be more competitive for the votes of non-white Americans or cease being a conservative party. Anyone who wishes for a Republican party that is not a pale imitation of the Democratic party will have to resist the temptation that the route back to power is through abandoning social conservatism. The moral traditionalism of American conservatism will serve as a far more likely gateway for minority voters than, say, capital gains tax cuts.
What I saw at the March for Marriage was a political coalition that does not exist yet, but, with proper imagination, could in a generations time.
Christopher Palko is a writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.