New York - US President Barack Obama declared his personal support for
the right of homosexual couples to get married on Wednesday, which
naturally produced cries from the conservative media and adulation from
the liberal outlets. In particular, supporters of civil rights for LGBT
folks applauded the president on taking this stance "in spite of the
Just what is the political impact?
have said that Obama did not need to support same-sex marriage. It's
not a popular idea. Just yesterday North Carolina joined every other
southern state in agreeing to a constitutional amendment banning
recognition of any relationship that isn't one woman and one man.
seven states permit full gay marriage, which could move to ten by
November. Thirty states prohibit it. So what was the benefit?
gay marriage has huge support among some communities in New York and
California, among others. These two states have many people with lots of
money ready to donate, and Obama's war chest will be in healthier shape
after this announcement. Money makes a huge difference in US elections.
Polls - mixed messages
Let's also clear up a
misconception; although congressional Democrats have most recently led
the fight for civil rights progression in the USA, it is not a party of
pinko liberals. There are many conservative Democrat voters.
prominent socially conservative demographics that backed Obama in huge
numbers in the 2008 election were black and Hispanic voters, both of
which poll a majority against recognising same-sex marriage.
to a Washington Post/ABC poll 53% of black voters oppose gay marriage
while 42% support it. In November last year, a poll by Latino Decisions
for Univision showed that only 43% of Hispanic voters believe in
same-sex marriage, but another 13% believe in civil unions. White voters
back the measure 53% to 43%. Evangelical voters, who tend to vote
Republican anyway, are staunchly against the measure, but are somewhat
countered by young people, 59% of whom back same-sex marriage.
Independents, the election deciders, favour gay marriage 57% to 40%.
socially conservative swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina
could be edged to presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney's way on
this particular topic, the independent suburbanites could help Obama
with Virginia and in the southwest.
did one spectacularly clever thing. He did not back a national law to
entrench same-sex marriage rights; what he explicitly said was that he
personally backed these rights, but that it was up to states to decide.
This means that states are perfectly entitled to make their own
decisions and enact laws against gay marriage.
This is a
favourite conservative line of argument for just about any federally
decided issue and will be awfully hard to argue against in a predictable
backlash to the president's newly announced point of view.
have used this as a wedge issue before (particularly in the defeat of
John Kerry in 2004) but keeping things at the state level makes it much
harder to be definitively against Obama's position.
this is Mitt Romney's one and only defence of the healthcare law he
enacted in Massachusetts when he was governor: That it applied to his
state alone. It is all he has to say when attacking virtually the exact
same plan executed nationally by the Obama administration.
also indicates Obama has no intention of federally enacting his new
stance if he wins the election in November, which should sate some of
the folks readying the torches and pickaxes.
the aforementioned polls look pretty even for the president in terms of
intention, what is harder to quantify is how many people will turn out
to vote. An issue like gay marriage, if Obama opponents can whip up
enough rage, could bring more conservatives out to vote in November,
which would not suit the president.
It would be the converse of
one of the major reasons he beat John McCain in 2008 - turnout by his
supporters dwarfed Republican voters. It is also a lot of the reason
referendums limiting gay rights expansion have passed historically -
conservative opponents have organised and voted en masse.
this election will remain about the economy there are a fair number of
voters, including Democrats, who take social issues very seriously and
Obama runs the risk of losing their vote.
While it is doubtful
that a significant number of voters will cross the aisle and vote for
Republicans, it is possible they will not vote in protest. If Mitt
Romney or Barack Obama can differentiate themselves from one another on
the economy, however, I can't see an election-swinging bloc changing the
election on the president's endorsement of gay marriage - it's an issue
one can worry about when there's food on the table.
suit Mitt Romney in some respects, most notably that he is most
certainly the conservative in the race. While Romney has taken flak for
being too moderate, this issue will most likely unite his base around
The hardcore conservatives do not want a man in the White
House who is even considering endorsing equal marriage rights, let alone
publicly saying them on television. By continuing the line that
marriage is between one man and one woman, and that he doesn't even
support civil unions, Romney looks a hell of a lot more conservative
This also marks the last election
on which the Democrats can no longer stand in any place that is not for
gay marriage – enough constituencies will simply not allow it.
fact, some of the names expected to be in the running for the Democrat
nomination in 2016 are folks like the governors of New York and
Maryland, Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley respectively, who have both
signed legislation permitting homosexual couples to marry.
So what do you actually mean?
bold and unprecedented statement makes forecasting difficult, but I
don't think Obama is going to tank an election on it - and there is the
possibility of a small net gain.
I won't be betting any money, though.