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None of your business

Roger Cohen/ 11 Nov 12 | 12:50 AM

New York— Get out of our bedrooms.

If there was one unequivocal message delivered, as the Republican candidate Mitt Romney was rejected and President Barack Obama re-elected, it was that Americans do not want politicians meddling with their sexual orientation, the right of gays to marry, or women’s choices over reproduction.

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They particularly do not want white male Republicans invoking religious faith to theorise about the nature of rape or whether pregnancy following such violation might be God’s will. The country-club crowd, almost all white, who gathered around Romney at the last needs to learn a basic lesson of this vote: The United States has moved into the 21st century when it comes to sexual mores.

The shift has been rapid. In 2004, the Democratic candidate John Kerry lost as Republicans managed to fire up the evangelical turnout by using gay marriage ballot initiatives. Any candidate’s approval of gay marriage looked like political suicide. Eight years later Obama endorsed gay marriage in an election year and, despite a faltering economy, he won.

In the Facebook age, there was often no quicker way to get “unfriended," than declaring support for Romney, even if that support was over economic rather than social issues. The choice, whatever its motive, could easily appear as a personal attack on the gay and lesbian community, as well as all the Generation Xers and Millennials for whom targeting someone’s sexual orientation just seems so 20th-century — an unacceptable holdover from another age.

But of course, Romney was more concerned about guns for the navy than the impact on the world of social media.

If, after this defeat, the Republicans cling to the extreme social conservatism of its loony right, they will be gazing at the White House with longing eyes for many years. The demographic trends are clear. Obama was backed by 6 in 10 Americans under 30, while Romney won a majority of voters 65 or older. Like the Democrats before the arrival of Bill Clinton, Republicans have lost touch with the dominant pulse of the country.

Romney, who lives near the city of Harvard and MIT and scientific innovation, threw away an election that was eminently winnable for the GOP by hitching himself to social ideas from another age, ideas that often dress up intolerance in religious garb.

He had to do so to secure his base, or so the conventional thinking goes. But that base got him nowhere. The worst part is I am not sure Romney even believes those ideas himself. In any event, the repudiation from the American people was vehement.

It is absurd that anyone who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative has to look hard for a political home in the United States. The Republican Party has vacated that large terrain. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, stands about there, but appears to have given up national political ambitions.

Social liberalism is ascendant and there is now no reason to believe the trend will stop. In Maine and Maryland, voters approved same-sex marriage. (Maine in 2009 had repealed a law allowing same-sex marriage.)

In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly lesbian senator. In Minnesota, voters rejected a bid to ban gay marriage in the state’s constitution.

In Indiana, which veered sharply toward Romney in the presidential vote, Representative Joe Donnelly took a Senate seat for the Democrats weeks after his opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, said pregnancy resulting from rape was “something that God intended to happen" and life was always a “gift from God."

In Ohio, Josh Mandel, the hawkish young Republican candidate for the Senate, crashed to defeat to the Democrat incumbent Sherrod Brown. Mandel had thought fit to call Mourdock a “class act" after the rape comment. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who had seemed vulnerable, defeated Representative Todd Akin, whose particular theory was that women who are victims of “legitimate rape" would somehow not get pregnant.

The white Republican males speculating in these ways about women’s bodies appear to have a problem — and the problem is not merely political.

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, recaptured the Senate seat long held by Edward Kennedy, after a campaign in which she made a strong appeal to women. “To all the women across Massachusetts who are working your tails off," she declared, “you better believe we’re going to fight for equal pay for equal work."

The message to the Republican Party was clear: Come to terms with equal rights and freedom of choice for women, and with the different sexual orientations of Americans, or go on losing.

Another message to the GOP was delivered by the vast majority of Latinos voting for Obama: Shift from a negative to a positive message about immigration. A third, to the Sheldon Adelsons of this world, was that money cannot buy everything.

The social tableau behind the Obamas in their moment of victory was an image of America today, an America that holds love to be personal. This declaration — our bedrooms are our own business — was one of the great national triumphs of the night.


 

© 2012 The New York Times News Service

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