The New York Times’ Frank Rich has a column in tomorrow’s edition on the relative silence of Republican leaders in the face of overwhelming public support and momentum for repeal of the discriminatory DADT policy:

To a degree unimaginable as recently as 2004 ‚Äî when Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people ‚Äî there is now little political advantage to spewing homophobia. Indeed, anti-gay animus is far more likely to repel voters than attract them. This equation was visibly eating at Orrin Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, as he vamped nervously with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC last week, trying to duck any discernible stand on Mullen’ testimony. On only one point was he crystal clear: “I just plain do not believe in prejudice of any kind.”

Now that explicit anti-gay animus is an albatross, those who oppose gay civil rights are driven to invent ever loopier rationales for denying those rights, whether in the military or in marriage. Hatch, for instance, limply suggested to Mitchell that a repeal of “don’t ask” would lead to gay demands for “special rights.” Such arguments, both preposterous and disingenuous, are mere fig leaves to disguise the phobia that can no longer dare speak its name. If gay Americans are to be granted full equality, the flimsy rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that lies beneath.

(…)

In another, milder cross-examination ‚Äî on “Meet the Press” last weekend ‚Äî John Boehner, the House G.O.P. leader, fended off a question about “don’t ask” with a rhetorical question of his own: “In the middle of two wars and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?” Besides Mullen’ answer ‚Äî that it is the right thing to do ‚Äî there’ another, less idealistic reason why President Obama might want to get into it. The debate could blow up in the Republicans’ faces. A protracted battle or filibuster in which they oppose civil rights will end up exposing the deep prejudice at the root of their arguments. That’ not where a party trying to expand beyond its white Dixie base and woo independents wants to be in 2010.

Rich goes on to point out that independent swing voters are far closer to Democrats on social issues. I’ve seen this at play with friends and associates who consider themselves “fiscal conservatives and social liberals.” Most of them feel like the Republican party has left them behind, as they’ve kowtowed to the demands of socially retarded religious conservatives time and time again.

Anti-gay animus has simply become socially unacceptable. We’ve seen this at play in the recent ballot initiatives to take away equal marriage rights. During campaign season, the figures who speak bigotry to power with the most clarity are pushed to the margins, because anti-gay animus is simply going the way of racism. It will likely always exist in certain backwoods corners of our society, but whatever. Every village has an idiot. Throughout the rest of society, though, the walls are falling down faster than ever.

Read the whole column.