Friday, May 16, 2008

The Presidential Politics of Same-Sex Marriage


The big news in the morning papers is the California Supreme Court decision striking down the state's ban on gay marriage.

How will the ruling play out on the presidential election trail?

The Los Angeles Times suggests the decision introduces some hot-button volatility to the race:
The California Supreme Court's decision allowing same-sex marriage probably throws the politically volatile issue into November, when a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage could spill into the presidential campaign and contests for Congress and the state Legislature.

The court's Thursday ruling was not necessarily good news for the presidential candidates, on whom it could exert problematic pressure.

Republican John McCain's success depends on melding a fractious coalition of GOP conservatives -- who are among those pressing for a ban on same-sex marriage -- with independents and conservative Democrats who tend to recoil from candidates campaigning on social issues. Although a November ballot measure could encourage higher turnout by conservatives who are not naturally aligned with McCain, it also could alienate moderates and young voters, who polls show are far more accepting of same-sex marriage.

Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had sketched out a more centrist path than the court's. The decision could encourage Democratic interest groups to press candidates to extend their support for civil unions to same-sex marriage itself.

All three offered finessed responses Thursday, saying that defining marriage is best left to individual states.

In an apparent effort to assuage supporters, McCain reiterated his belief that states have a right to ban same-sex marriage. Obama and Clinton emphasized support for civil unions and equal rights for same-sex couples.

Not surprisingly, the most definitive political statement Thursday came from someone not on the November ballot: California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I respect the court's decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling," Schwarzenegger said. "Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the Constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling."

A coalition of religious and conservative activists has submitted 1.1 million signatures to qualify a November constitutional amendment to say that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

A random sampling of those signatures is underway, and in late June the secretary of state is expected to announce whether, as expected, the groups collected the 763,790 valid signatures necessary to qualify the measure for the November ballot. If approved by voters, the initiative would overturn the Supreme Court decision, according to Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for groups backing the measure. He predicted it would be "a dominant issue" in November.
The politics of the ballot process is interesting here.

The Court's ruling overturns California's Proposition 22, which passed with 61 percent of the vote in 2000. If McCain's sincere about resisting activist judges in judicial appointments, here's a great chance to hammer far left-wing activists.

It's also striking that Governor Schwarzenegger's so out front in his position on supporting gay rights. He's ineligble for the White House, but in an era of electoral upheaval the Austrian Oak might be a model of moderation for those advocating Big Tent Republicanism.

Note, though, that conservatives activists are
already mobilizing to overturn the ruling.

Not only that, Gallup data show that
gay marriage is oppposed by a large majority nationwide:

Even as a majority of Americans believe homosexuality ought to be an "acceptable alternative lifestyle," only 40% currently say marriage between same-sex couples should be legal; 56% disagree.

The issue has been brought to the fore by Thursday's California Supreme Court decision to overturn a state ban on gay marriage, making California only the second state in the nation to legally recognize such marriages. Massachusetts blazed this trail with passage of a gay marriage act in 2004.

Public support for legalizing gay marriage is somewhat higher today than what Gallup found at the outset of polling on the subject 12 years ago. In 1996, about one in four Americans thought marriages between homosexuals should be recognized by the law as valid. That increased to 35% in 1999 and to 42% in 2004. However, for the past four years, public support has failed to grow in a linear fashion; rather, it has fluctuated between 37% and 46%.

That's interesting!

Over the past four years (during the Bush administration) there's been little demand for change on this issue. So, while everyone's touting '08 as a "change election," here we have a conservative majority saying, hey, slowdown a bit here!

This should work to the GOP's favor, as
Ann Althouse notes:

I think the fear of rapid change will affect voters in the presidential election, especially since we expect the Democrats will control both houses of Congress. Do we really want a Democratic President too? Do we want, in addition to free-flowing legislative change, a President whose judicial appointments will be rubber-stamped in the Senate?

Now, Obama's message has been change. He's committed to that message, and it can be turned against him — a feat that becomes easier in the aftermath of the California decision.

Now there's a big "culture war" issue that will help drive political dynamics this fall.

And just think, Republicans have been in
a panic of late, but now we'll have Gavin Newsome to kick around a bit!

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Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times