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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

When All Else Fails, There’s Always Gay Marriage

Rick in Casablanca said “We’ll always have Paris”. Less charmingly, the Republicans seem to believe that, whatever bad things are happening to them, they’ll always have the gay marriage issue to fall back on. Hence, the president’s eagerness to trot out his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage at a time when his credibility is taking hit after hit, from AWOL to WMD.
How justified is their confidence in the political elixir of gay marriage? In DR’s view, not much.
Start with public views on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Recent polls tend to show that, while the public is opposed to legalizing gay marriage, it is evenly divided on the question of a consitutional amendment. The latest Gallup poll, for example, has it dead-even, 47 percent for/47 percent against. Interestingly, that split is actually a little bit more favorable than it was in July of last year, the last time Gallup asked the question, when 50 percent said they were in favor of an amendment, with 45 percent opposed.
The Gallup poll also finds that the issue of same-sex mariage ranks dead last–14th of out of 14–in a long list of issues respondents were asked to evaluate for their importance in affecting their presidential vote.
The latest Newsweek poll also finds the public about split on a consitutional amendment–47 percent for and 45 percent against. But political independents, consistent with a long-standing pattern of relative liberalism on gay rights issues, are substantially more liberal than the public as a whole: they oppose a constitutional amendment by 53 percent to 40 percent.
Other polling data show that independents are also more liberal the the public as a whole on same-sex civil unions (which they tend to support) and on legalizing gay marriage (where they are split about evenly).
But if independents are a problem with this particular line of GOP attack, young voters are even more so. Their views are gay rights issues are conspicuously and unambiguously liberal. For example, even on the contentious issue of gay marriage, young Americans (18-29) favor allowing such marriages by 13-20 points in recent polls.
What this means, of course, is that attempts by the Bush campaign to inflame the issue of gay marriage around a constitutional amendment are virtually guaranteed to alienate large numbers of independent and young voters, when both critical groups of voters, as DR as repeatedly argued, are already leaning Democratic. To reach these voters, without whom Bush will have a difficult time winning re-election, the Republicans needs to shore up Bush’s image as a tolerant, compassionate conservative not damage it even further.
And what if the Democrats counterattack by saying that a national constitutional amendment is unnecessary and punitive and that states should make their own laws on the issue (as vice-president Cheney, who has a gay daughter has famously advocated)? Then the GOP difficulties on the issue intensify because, according to a January ABC News/Washington Post poll , the public supports the state law approach over the national constitutional amendment approach by a 58 percent to 38 percent margin. And that margin is 60 percent to 38 percent among independents and more than 2:1 (67 percent to 32 percent) among 18-29 year olds.
In short, they may find the gay marriage elixir just gives them another headache.
Note: The just-released ABC News/Washington Post poll, which typically runs high on Bush’s approval rating, has his job rating down to 50 percent and has him losing to Kerry by 9 points among registered voters. More on this poll tomorrow.

21 comments on “When All Else Fails, There’s Always Gay Marriage

  1. Alex on

    I suspect that the amendment issue will prove devastating for the Dems come November. Most of the nation, whether they know why or not, still believes marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. The Mass. court is legislating from the bench and that trend may have hit critical mass.
    As for the fear that some on this site have, there are many that disagree with the homosexual community, but not many that want to see you harmed physically or emotionally. Sure, there will always be wacko’s, but most people have no desire to start gay-bashing. They just don’t like, myself included, having laws changed by judges that re-defines marriage.

  2. Laura on

    We need to stop letting the Republicans dictate the issues. They will raise the gay marriage issue because it is divisive, emotional, and appeals to their core. It is also the kind of issue that gets a deer-in-the-headlights response from politians like Kerry. The best way to respond is as Edwards did in one of the debates. When asked what he thought of gay marriage he said briefly that he was in favor of it and then he immediatley launched into a five minute recital of his campaign pitch. Every Democrat should follow his lead. State simply and briefly a pro gay rights stance and then use the question as a springboard for sounding off at length on what ever issue the Democrats have chosen to push.

  3. DOC on

    You write..
    “And what if the Democrats counterattack by saying that a national constitutional amendment is unnecessary…”
    And Kerry says in last night’s debate when asked about a constitutional ammendment “protecting” marriage from us queers:
    “It depends on how it’s worded…”
    WTF is that??? I’m supposed to vote for this pussy? As a gay man I’m supposed to be exited about voting for Kerry?? Under Clinton, I got hit with DOMA. Under Kerry will I get hit with DOMA-the ammendment which will even eliminate all domestic partner benefits at town, city, state, and federal level? Christ, get me out of this madhouse!
    Damn I hate the republicans and the DLC is making sure the Democrats stay spineless republican lites.

  4. Peter on

    Upper Left, many blacks get very upset when their struggles are compared to gay rights. I seriously do wonder how many of them would be alienated from the Democrats if they merged MLK with gay marriage. Even if Coretta Scott King and other black leaders do favor same-sex marriage.
    So far the Dems seem to be running away from this issue. Meanwhile, public support for the Hate Amendment has been increasing over the past few months. Liars at New York Times and elsewhere have convinced the public that this amendment would only ban marriage. They let the public think that gay couples can still see each other in the hospital or share property, when that is not the case with this amendment. I just wonder if anything can wake the public up about the real consequences of the amendment. The saddest part…I wonder if they would still approve of the amendment if they found out it banned everything.

  5. Upper left on

    A few days ago I posted a comment about possible themes for the Dems. I suggested that we talk about Dems as the party of American values and American dreams. I think the gay marriage issue is an excellent example of the way that this theme could be useful.
    If gay marriage is presented as an issue of protecting the sanctity of marriage and the raising of children within marriage, then I think it is very dangerous for us. If on the other hand, gay marriage is presented in the context of the long historic struggle to get this country to live up to its founding ideals, I think we can take most of the sting out of it. Let’s discuss gay marriage in terms of the Decleration of Independence, the struggle to end slavery, the struggle to grant women the right to vote, and MLK Jr’s “I have a dream” speech. In this context, I think most Americans will view an effort to enshrine discrimination in our constitution for the first time as an act of blasphemy. The fundamental greatness of our country has been its efforts to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority.
    I agree that homophobia runs deep in our culture, but I think our commitment to the founding ideals of the country also run deep. By placing this issue in this context, we assume the high ground and make Repubs look like they are attempting to undermine our most cherished values.

  6. Peter on

    This is more about corporations wanting to save many millions of dollars than about a consumer economy. I also don’t buy into the new spiel that complaining about this issue is “bashing India”.
    On things like this and amnesty for illegal aliens, Bush seems to be very confused about the position of much of the public. I hope he pays dearly in November.

  7. Rich tenney on

    this outsourcing of jobs is driven by our consumer econony….we all want everything and we want it fast and cheap..the benefits accrue to all of us…i saw the ABC program…that;s what we’re getting…our taxes done fast and cheap, our nedical records reviewed fast and cheap…there may be some job loss, but bottom line is the bottom line…..

  8. Peter on

    Martin, your analogy makes sense, but the problem is that this amendment could very easily put us back into the dark, dark days of shame and shunning. Before the Mass. decision, before the Supreme Court threw out the sodomy laws, the public was beginning to trust us, beginning to see we weren’t bad. Now they hate us more than ever. At this point we’re lucky to get a slim majority who don’t want to amend the Constitution to ban our relationships for all time. Frist today said they were going to work overtime to get this thing out there within the year, and I really think they can.
    I can’t use the “everything gets better over time” argument, because it didn’t for the gays in Nazi Germany (who were, in the mid/late-30’s, treated in a similar fashion to how the current GOP treats gays) and the gays currently living in Islamic and African countries aren’t getting better over time. America has become more reactionary and angry to change or debate. An amendment to permanently cut off debate will be a big success in most state legislatures. All because of a few court decisions, gay couples will likely never have any benefits, and Bush will get 4 more years.
    All I’m saying is that Democrats need to make sure they don’t take this issue for granted. Get everyone you can to see your point of view. Make sure that you contain the fallout from this as much as you can. The fundie groups have tens of millions of dollars they’re going to use in ugly ad campaigns. They know that America will side with bigotry, and frequently does.

  9. Chris in Boston on

    It seems to me that both sides in the Presidential campaign are going to be dragged kicking and screaming into a position on gay marriage and amending Constitutions – despite Kerry afraid of being tarred as out-of-touch liberal, and Bush afraid of repeating the 1996 GOP debacle. And certainly, the left has to be mindful of the ultimate goal of defeating Bush this year.
    But I wonder where its priorities are when its SOLE interest in discussing gay marriage is as a handicap in the national elections. This week has a seen a Constitutional convention here in Massachusetts that’s really a historic event. Yes, Hawaii and Vermont made moves before the Bay State, but here a state legislature is debating seriously its responsibility for insuring the rights of gay citizens in the Constitution. Yet you look at the major voices in the liberal blogosphere and there’s no commentary on this and certainly no excitement that marriage rights might be enshrined for all.
    So, while we can talk strategically about what gay marriage means for the Democratic Party, we shouldn’t overlook that there’s a substantive rights issue at stake for some of us.

  10. Jay on

    My feeling is that, in time, the right is going to lose big on this one. Andrew mentioned that there are no victims, so that the issue wouldn’t have traction. In fact there ARE victims, the loved ones who can’t visit their partners in hospitals, and the children that are placed in foster homes.
    As a young man in the 70’s I was very uncomforatable with homosexuality. What’s really changed my mind is the large number of gay people I’ve met. Not every one of them was a winner, but by and large they were stable, hardworking, and responsible, with stable relationships…just like the straight people I knew.
    What will win this fight is putting a face on it. Put the victims on television and have them talk about why they want marriage rights. Find families in each community that are willing to come out publicly and say why this would hurt them, and have them limit it to legal issues. I’m sure that there are many gay couples want the sanction of their churches, but that may be longer in coming.
    The fuss now is simply the last gasp of resistance. I don’t think homophobia will die, but soon it will have no place in public life. This year? Maybe not. But soon. Keep the faith, keep fighting.

  11. Peter on

    Martin, considering the time we are living in, I do think it’s worse. In the past, gays were generally ignored, or seen as too pathetic to do any real damage. Now they are seen as this huge threat, and the government, which is more of a theocracy than it has ever been, is trying to destroy us. By cooperating with religious and anti-gay organizations, by funding ex-gay groups, by using the national bully pulpit to make America fear and hate us. Never before in recent years has the national media and government been so committed to extended gay-bashing. They want to make life worse and worse for us, raise votes and funds off of our smoldering corpses. They won’t stop until we have no rights of any kind. I think that within 10 years, things like sodomy laws will be back, will be enforced, and electroshock therapy will also be back in full force.
    People who say “this is about jobs, this is about health care” don’t realize that this is a two-pronged attack. Bush doesn’t have to publicly gay-bash. He will use the media, underlings, push polls, whisper campaigns to get the public riled up against gays. That’s what he’s doing right now. We need to try to counteract this. We can’t simply smugly say that this isn’t a big issue. To most of America, to the millions who are so wrapped up in their homophobia and their rage, it is the ONLY issue. And that includes more and more Democrats.

  12. Peter on

    tristero…screw Bush. The better question is why does Cheney hate his daughter so much? Why does Mary hate herself and the gay community so much that she works on her bigot father’s campaign?
    She is an awful person. despicable.

  13. Paul C on

    I want to agree with what Steve Cohen said — the real issue HAS to be the oursoucing of jobs and the sorry state of the economy. If Bush tries to emphasize gay marriage, a strong campaigner can easily change the subject, saying that we need to talk about more important national issues. And having watched Kerry for the past 20 years in Massachusetts, he is a good strategic campaigner.
    Most importantly, lets not let Bush pass the buck to some economist over his report. The title of the report was “The PRESIDENT’s Report on the Economy.” True to his upbringing, Bush doesn’t take responsibility for anything. This wasn’t the economist’s report, it was the President’s. Hey Dubya, the buck is supposed to stop with you.

  14. tristero on

    The question for Bush, should he officially announce support for the Anti-Marriage Amendment is this:
    Why does Bush hate Cheney so much that he would deny Cheney’s daughter the right to marry the person she loves?

  15. Steve Cohen on

    Handed Bush 4 more years? Geez, you guys are living in a different world from the one I’m living in. Did you guys see “Nightline” last night? The issue, the outsourcing of jobs. After seeing that, I don’t see how gay marriage even gets on the radar as an issue. As I’ve said before, the main force it will have is to cement confirmed Bush voters a little more tightly to him.
    You’ve got no less a Republican than the Speaker of the House calling Bush out over the issue of some remarks by the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisiors to the effect that outsourcing of jobs is good for the American economy, and calling for this guy’s resignation, which Bush won’t ask for.
    Now the jobs issue may be less interesting for you than it is for me, but I can assure you that there are millions of people for whom it is THE issue. If this election was only about gay rights we’d lose. But it won’t be. Hang in there. It isn’t over yet.

  16. PhillyA on

    The very thought that approximately half of all Americans want to codify into our most basic founding document, the U.S. Constitution, the fact that gay people are unworthy of equal rights is absolutely sickening.
    Do we, as Americans, truly believe that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unailianble rights, that among these are life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness” or NOT? Was the Declaration of Independence really just bullshit?
    I want George W. Bush out of office as much (if not more) than any other citizen of this country, but I firmly believe that anyone willing to go along with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution codifying discrimination against law-abiding, tax paying citizens because they were born gay simply in order to “go along to get along” and win the election for the Democrats is unpatriotic, un-American and no better than a slave-owner or a member of the KKK.

  17. Peter on

    Dan, I have also seen mostly favorable coverage of this amendment (especially from Time and that pathetic shill New York Times), gay-bashing and fear-mongering in the mainstream press and on TV news networks, and constant deception about the Hate Amendment (as some are calling it now)’s true impact. They constantly deceive people into believing that this amendment will only ban marriage. Wrong. It bans EVERYTHING, and will even ban common-law marriage for straights and many adoption or partner scenarios among platonic friends, coworkers, etc.
    I will say this a million times:
    People who underestimate the power of homophobia and bigotry in this country are deluding themselves beyond repair. Gays are one of the last groups left to safely discriminate against. All races, religions and walks of life loathe us. They would do terrible things to us if laws were not in place to stop them. Even then they sometimes do so anyway (and the courts tend to let them off with the ligthest sentences possible). Never, EVER tell yourself that homophobia and violent hatred of homosexuals is not a constant, growing part of this country. Always remember this simple fact. And do your best to counteract it.
    We need to educate every single person we know, online and offline, about the true consequences of this amendment. Andrew Sullivan has stated the full consequences on his website many times.
    We have to assume that we are going to lose quite a few votes, especially in the black and Hispanic communities, on this issue. And many, many votes in the Midwest. We have to work on registering progressives and tolerant people who are not interested in politics or voting. Offer to drive them to polls (I have), offer to babysit their kids, anything. Just get them to agree to vote in November. Ask them to talk to their friends and family and co-workers. Make it a game or a contest. Anything.
    This is the worst possible issue coming at the worst possible time. Mass. basically handed George Bush 4 more years.

  18. rich tenney on

    i don’t know where you guys are from, I’ll guess MA and HA, but I can guarantee you that here in PA, especialy in Pittsburgh, that gay maariage issue doesn’t play well with most middle class Democrats..sure it might be fanciful out in the Pacific or Barney Franks nieghborhood, but here its don’t ask, don’t tell.

  19. Dan Perreten on

    Donald: Yeah, thanks for pointing that out. I believe a majority of Massachusetts citizens actually approve of gay marriage, but look what’s happening there.
    I’m afraid two things are going to happen: the right will vigorously press their case, the left (in particular the good-guy straight liberals) will wimp out.
    The press is already trending significantly to the side of the bigots. NPR ran a report last night on All Things Considered that was startlingly sympathetic to the the anti-gay folks and didn’t interview any pro-gay folks. AP ran a story yesterday with a headline claiming that Kerry supported gay marriage, a blatant falsehood. Look for lots more of this kind of coverage.

  20. Donald from Hawaii on

    In 1998, voters in Hawaii — that bastion of mid-Pacific liberalism — approved by a 70%-30% margin an amendment to the state constitution restricting the legal definition of marriage to the union between a man and a woman. While polls showed a majority of voters favoring its passage prior to the vote, none reflected the tidal wave of support for the amendment that subsequently resulted.
    This gay marriage issue is a God-awful dillemma for Democrats, because recent history shows that voters clearly tend to react viscerally and homophobically to gay and lesbian issues once they are placed on the ballot.
    This is, of course, another reason why these issues belong in the courts, and not on the ballot.
    Can’t we consider another alternative to promote equality before the law — like abolishing the state-issued marriage license in its entirety? Or perhaps states could amend the name of the license so that it doesn’t include the word “marriage.” Sure, tax and property laws would have to be rewritten to reflect its abolition. But that would certainly be preferable to watching the GLBT community get kicked around like a cheap political football — again.

  21. Andrew on

    I have spent many hours of the last few days in the Massachusetts State House while the constitutional debate over banning gay marriage has unfolded. It has been inspiring to see people stand up for civil rights and equal rights, but perplexing to see our representatives tie themselves in knots trying to take these rights away.
    Perhaps the Mass Pols think they need to provide cover for Kerry on this issue. I hope they realize that this isn’t necessary, and that opposing gay marriage will put them on the wrong side of history.
    The issue will not gain traction, because there are no victims of gay marriage. In this sense, it is very different from abortion. The opposition has no poster children to trot out.
    While it has been exhausting, it has also been exhilarating to watch the democratic process work itself out in this state. Let’s home that those Dems who are concerned about Kerry and feel they have to compromise on their values quickly realize that standing for values and civil rights is the strongest path forward.


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