Yesterday, I wrote about Obama’s announcement that he now (publicly) supports same-sex marriage and praised the President for his courage. I also wrote that I am, “worried that this will be used against the President with success by the Romney campaign and its surrogates, especially in crucial states like Virginia and North Carolina.” While this still worries me, I am a little less worried today after having spent some time thinking about it.
As I see it, there several different types of voters who will be affected, one way or the other, by Obama’s support of same-sex marriage.
People who were going to vote for Obama before he made this announcement. These people will still vote for Obama if they cast a vote. There is a chance that a minority of them will decide to stay home and not vote for anyone, but I think that number is so small that it’s insignificant.
Specifically, I’ve heard some talk about the African-American community, which tends to be more conservative on issues like same-sex marriage, but only someone who has gone completely insane would believe that African-Americans are going to allow our first black President to be thrown out of office without a fight after only one term. African-Americans will turn out in large numbers for Obama, just as they did in 2008. Look at what happened in California that year. That state went to Obama by a wide margin, even though voters approved the exceptionally nasty Proposition 8 that took away the previously granted marriage rights of gay Californians.
Independent voters who are opposed to same-sex marriage. There is a chance some of these independent voters who were going to vote for Obama will instead vote for Romney, but it will be a small minority. Independent voters tend to not be single-issue voters. The President already supported gay rights in their eyes, and his support of same-sex marriage is not a major shift in policy, despite the comments by those on the far right who want it to be seen as the biggest “flip flop” in our nation’s history (I’m looking at you, Sean Hannity of Fox News). In fact, Obama’s public support of same-sex marriage changes nothing in terms of policy, because he’s been working to expand and strengthen gay rights all along (and here’s an infographic to prove it).
Obama supporters who were enthusiastic about Senator Obama in 2008, but who have become disillusioned in the last three years because they feel that Obama failed to deliver on his promises to them. Specifically, I’m talking about the youth vote here. Same-sex marriage is an important issue to younger liberals/progressives (and is even supported by many younger conservatives), and many of them have been looking for a reason to get excited about the President again. His support for same-sex marriage may drive them to the polls (and it certainly won’t hurt his standing with them). Those who weren’t going to volunteer for the President’s campaign this time around may even decide that the his comments warrant a change of mind.
Other Obama supporters, like me, who strongly support same-sex marriage. For these people, Obama has just sent a message that he’s still our guy, even if he sometimes disappoints us by not pushing back against conservatives as much as we’d like. His support of same-sex marriage could drive us to the polls in larger numbers, although I think it’s safe to say that most of us were already going to show up vote for him. What the President’s announcement could do, however, is cause us to volunteer more of our time to his campaign or donate more money (he received $1 million in unsolicited donations within the first 90-minutes after the news of his announcement broke). If he gets us fired up, our energy is worth more than pure gold.
Gay Americans, their families, and their friends. Like the group I outlined above (#4), the President’s announcement could energize LGBT voters and remind them they have a friend in the White House (and they won’t have that friend if Mitt Romney is elected).
It’s important to also note that many Americans have family members, friends, or coworkers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and they are quite fond of them (at the very least, most are no longer afraid of gay people or uncomfortable around them because they see them as fellow human beings). They don’t like hearing politicians attacking those that they care about. The nastiness turns them off. (Incidentally, this personal interaction with members of the LGBT community is the reason that support for same-sex marriage — and gay rights in general — has risen very quickly over the last several years.)
Republican voters who do not support gay marriage. These people were never going to vote for Obama anyway. Many of them dislike Romney, though, and some of them may not have voted at all. The President’s vocal support for same-sex marriage may drive them to the polls to vote for anyone-but-the-guy-who-supports-gay-people.
According to Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, “the [Romney] campaign [will] make President Obama’s support for marriage equality an issue this November and that Romney will actively push for a constitutional amendment to take away the right of states to voluntarily extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. Gillespie [said] that same-sex marriage, ‘will be another bright-line difference in this campaign.’ He added that the GOP intends to campaign on the issue … .” (source)
Romney should tread very carefully here. He may find that many of the moderate Republicans and (especially) independents whose support he will need are not as receptive to the harsh, anti-gay language of the far right as they were just a few years ago. This approach could backfire.
Republican voters, or those who lean Republican, who also support same-sex marriage. I’m not saying that Dick Cheney is going to switch parties and vote for Obama (they say “never say never”, but… yeah, never) simply because the President supports Cheney’s daughter’s right to marry another woman, but a small minority of moderate Republicans support gay marriage and dislike Romney enough that they may vote for Obama. Either that, or they may not vote at all. The point is that this will not energize them for Romney.
So, in the end, it might be a wash, at worst, and a net gain for Obama, at best.
But what about the effect of anti-same-sex marriage amendments on conservative voter turnout?
I’ve heard several pundits saying that Obama’s support of same-sex marriage will drive conservative voters, who would have otherwise stayed home because they dislike Romney, to the polls in large numbers. They point to what happened in Ohio in 2004, where an anti-same-sex marriage amendment was on the ballot. John Kerry lost that state, they say, because conservatives turned out to vote for the amendment and voted for G.W. Bush while they were there (I don’t believe that this is why Kerry lost — see below). Other states have put similar initiatives on their ballots and the results were the same: high conservative voter turnout and nasty anti-gay amendments to state constitutions.
To date, including North Carolina, which amended its constitution this past Tuesday, 30 states have passed anti-same-sex marriage amendments to their constitutions.
Side Note: I don’t actually believe that Kerry lost Ohio because same-sex marriage was on the ballot. That’s just what people who forget their history say today. He lost Ohio because “… some precincts had too few machines causing long waiting times, while others had plenty of machines per registered voters …” (source) The precincts with fewer machines were — you guessed it — in districts that tended to vote for Democrats. It was also raining that night, if I recall correctly (some people, to their credit, stood in long lines — in the rain — to vote for Kerry).
Anyway, the problem with the whole ballot initiative argument is that it ignores one crucial fact: there are a finite number of states in our Union. We’ve only got fifty of them, last time I checked, and the conservatives have just about used them all up (30 states, so far) where it’s possible to get anti-gay constitutional amendments on the ballot (states like mine — New Jersey — may not allow same-sex marriage — we have civil unions right now and voter support for full marriage equality, so it will come sooner rather than later — but they aren’t going to ban it in their constitutions). In fact, if I were a North Carolina conservative, I would have waited until November to put that state’s anti-gay amendment on the ballot, and Obama, who is polling ahead of Romney in NC right now and needs to win that state in November, may have lost. Instead, it was on the ballot this past Tuesday. Though it was passed by a wide margin, it’s not going to drive conservative turnout in November, and the state is still up for grabs. (Note that Minnesota will have an anti-same-sex marriage amendment on the ballot in November.)
In other words, Obama’s opponents have used up nearly all the states where they could hope to pass anti-gay ballot measures in order to drive their base to the polls, so this is no longer a factor. See, there’s a silver lining to that dark, hateful cloud.
So, am I worried?
Sure, I’m a little worried, but that’s what I do. I worry about things. I believe that just about anything can happen. A misplaced word here, a small mistake there. But, I can see several reasons to be very hopeful that the President’s decision to openly support same-sex marriage will help him in November. Either way, I’m tired of worrying about the political consequences of doing the right thing, so screw it. If we go down, we go down standing up for something that’s right, and history will judge us favorably.