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Will the Gay Marriage Issue Sink the Democrats?

With the favorable decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on same-sex marriages, there was much wringing of hands among Democrats that the gay marriage issue could help sink the Democrats in 2004. The Republicans will use the issue, fueled by reaction to the court decision, to drive cultural conservatives to their side and take swing states away from the Democrats.

Only one slight problem. One very logical reaction to this state court decision (if you feel strongly that gay marriage is an abomination and the courts can’t be trusted) is to take it out of the hands of the courts and go for a constitutional amendment. That means the numerous conservative activists who were already calling for a “Federal Marriage Amendment” (FMA) are going to be screaming louder in the wake of this decision.

And what’s the support level for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? A minuscule 10 percent, according to a just-released Pew Research Center Study. That makes stated support for gay marriage–32 percent, in the same poll–look robust. So if the GOP starts pumping up the issue, they’re going to energize a part of their base that holds a profoundly unpopular position–a position that will alienate many of the moderate suburban voters they need to carry swing states.

And Bush already has a problem with his image on these kind of issues. According to a recent Gallup poll, half the country thinks he wants to ban abortion completely–also a profoundly unpopular position. And what’s he going to do about Dick Cheney, who has an openly lesbian daughter and who is on record as supporting states’ rights to set policy in this area? Or about the fact that political independents, whose votes he desperately needs, tend to be pretty liberal on gay issues (they favor allowing civil unions by 52 percent to 41 percent) and will likely see unleashing the furies on the gay marriage issue as a move toward intolerance?

DR could go on. But he won’t. Instead, check out the excellent article by Matthew Yglesias on The American Prospect website which has much additional useful analysis along these lines. The Democrats will have many challenges to deal with in 2004. The Massachusetts Court decision is not likely to be one of them.

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Excellent post! I agree that the gay marriage issue is at least as risky for the GOP as it is for Democrats. Admittedly, this is an extremely sensitive issue for lots of Americans. But as Liberal Oasis has been pointing out, it's just inaccurate (or at least only half the picture) to say, as the media often does, that a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. He cites a poll that breaks the population down into rough thirds: one third who deeply oppose it, one third who support it, and one third who are squishy.

This is classically one of those issues where Democrats have two choices. They can either

1. react out of fear -- try to finesse the issue, have it both ways, sell out their base, and wind up looking like they don't believe in anything, or

2. stand up for what they believe -- by carefully framing the issue as one of fairness and equality, calling opponents on their bigotry if they engage in it, and gaining the respect of even those who disagree by showing that they have integrity and backbone.

Needless to say, Daschle has already chosen #1. Several of the presidential candidates are waffling pretty badly -- Gephardt especially.

Dean and Clark have come as close to #2 as they dare: They won't say they support gay marriage, but they haven't been loudly proclaiming their opposition to it, as the others have done.

It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Does anybody doubt that in twenty odd years gay marriage will be totally widespread and accepted? Let's get out in front on this issue. We're not talking about selling out some spotted owls here - this is a fundamental civil right we are denying a group of American citizens.

Marriage is a *government contract.* It is not a religious issue unless the government tells churches who they can and marry. That will never happen - it's not even on the table.

Freedom from slavery. The right to vote. The right to marry who you love. We need to lead on this issue, not hide from it.

More and more, it seems like the Republican party is dermined to lose the Libertarian vote, viewing it as less important than the religious vote. That's so shortsighted! Note to Democrats: Libertarians are looking for a new home!! Welcome them!!! There's a whole bunch of us out there who think it's so silly for the government to be regulating these things.

It is not a religious issue unless the government tells churches who they can and marry. That will never happen - it's not even on the table.

Oh nonsense. Of course the government tells churches who they can marry. Right now most state governments are telling churches that they can't marry people of different sexes.

I think in the long term this issue is good for the Democrats, but just to be the devil's advocate for a moment here... The Pew study says that only 10% of Americans support an anti-gay-marriage amendment when given the alternative of simply prohibiting gay marriage by law. But the report also mentions that in other surveys, which do not mention the possibility of prohibition by law, a majority of respondents support the amendment.

This implies to me that support for an amendment banning gay marriage will increase, possibly to a simple majority, if courts force the issue by removing the option of legal prohibition.

However, the slim majority and the geographic distribution of these opinions also suggests to me that a federal amendment has little chance of actually passing.

In some ways I think it's a hopeful sign for homosexuals that the GOP is even bothering to run on this issue. Think about it -- a few years ago no one would have ever run on an anti-gay-marriage plank because the idea of gays being able to marry would have seemed ludicrous.

Incidentally, I'm not sure why Bush is so focused on satisfying his right-wing base. Who else are they going to vote for? What is he afraid will happen? It seems like his best strategy would be to play to the middle.

I think there's a flaw in this argument just exposed by Bush's latest strategy. By trying to pass an Amendment banning gay marriages but allowing civil unions, any democrat is put in a bad position.

It leaves Bush to talk about the traditions of sacred marriage. It leaves the Dem to talk about states rights. This is an issue that needs to be killed and fast.