Most members of the Republican Party hope that the Supreme Court will not use the two gay-marriage cases it heard this week to issue a broad ruling affirming the constitutional right of gays and lesbians to marry. However, top officials in the GOP are reportedly praying for precisely that outcome, calculating that it would be the most effective way to remove gay marriage as a political liability.

Republican analysts see the party's opposition to gay marriage as a massive drag on their electoral prospects going forward. A solid majority of Americans now support marriage equality, and most worryingly for the GOP, more than 80 percent of young voters do as well. The Republican National Committee has described gay marriage as a "gateway" issue for a whole generation of new voters to identify with the Democratic Party, possibly doing lasting damage to the conservative party's brand. 

But the GOP's base isn't budging, which is why some Republican operatives see their salvation in the Supreme Court, reports Alexander Burns at Politico:

[T]he Republican Party and its evangelical core have not moved with the rest of the country, tying the GOP — for now — to a position that's anathema to the majority of younger, more educated, and politically independent voters; precisely the voters the party needs to begin clearing out the wreckage of two consecutive presidential defeats.

The only obvious way to square that political circle in the short term is through a sweeping Supreme Court decision — one that strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act and invalidates California's Proposition 8 law banning same-sex marriage. [Politico]

Without the Supreme Court introducing the political equivalent of a deus ex machina, analysts say the Republican Party will have to evolve the hard way, meeting stiff resistance from its base. As Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal Constitution writes:

So as a Republican leader, you're trapped between a rock and a hard place. You're caught between Scylla and Charybdis, between the devil and the deep blue sea. You're damned if you do and...well you get the point. The longer you stay where you are, the greater the damage to your party's future. But if you try to reposition yourself, you alienate a good portion of the current GOP coalition. [AJC]

Of course, a far-reaching Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage could also create problems for Republicans, invigorating staunchly conservative primary voters and pushing the party further right. "This would obviously be a net win for national Democrats," conservative strategist Patrick Hynes tells Politico.

But as long as the legal status of gay marriage remains unsettled, and support for marriage equality continues to rise, Democrats are sure to milk the issue for all it's worth — to the GOP's detriment.