Thursday, May 10, 2012

P.S. The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage

CAN WE STIPULATE PRESIDENT OBAMA did the right thing in his historic declaration of support for marriage equality, even if it wasn't the most inspiring display of presidential leadership?

Now comes the question: Who benefits electorally? Anyone who claims to have the answer is either a fool or a liar. Personally, I dislike single-issue social and gender rights politics in the context of a presidential election. In my experience, they have skewed the outcomes of presidential elections in ways that hurt the Democrats.

In 2004, an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in Ohio helped George W. Bush win that crucial swing state and the election, by a razor-thin margin, driving up turnout of single issue social conservatives rabidly opposed to gay marriage. In 1972, single issue militancy on a range of issues provoked a Democratic Party platform fight, clouding George McGovern's strongest selling point, as the peace in Vietnam candidate. Those "centrist" and "independent" voters returned to a vulnerable Nixon and the Democratic Party suffered a historic defeat.

One can assume that most Americans haven't given marriage equality much thought. Even if they did, it probably wouldn't change their minds. But regardless of the national polls and trends, a majority of those polled in critical swing states, so-called "purple" states, still cling to "traditional values" of marriage being between a man and a woman. And, as we know, American presidential elections aren't decided by a national majority vote.

Setting aside the merits of the issue — I'm for marriage equality, as are a majority of Americans by solid majorities in blue states, apparently, depending on which poll one reads, and how — the President's support for marriage equality could be the mother of all Pyrrhic victories; if the Republicans take back the White House.

Barney Frank said that opponents of marriage equality won't vote for the President anyway, regardless of what position he takes. And proponents are more likely to vote for the President, including gay Republicans. I find such claims dubious at best. As we have seen with the very public humiliation and resignation under fire of Mitt Romney's foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, for the sin of being openly gay, gay Republicans are more than willing to turn the other cheek. Mitt Romney essentially threw Grenell under the bus. The Republican Party left him twisting in the wind.

But like a good soldier, Grenell has refused to condemn his boss or his party. I doubt he has changed his mind following President Obama's support for marriage equality. When it comes to party and ideological loyalty trumping gender and gay rights issues, gay conservatives like Grenell are just as good at rationalizing their political contradictions as every other person on the right who votes against their enlightened self-interest. If anything, Grenell's attitude, as well as that of other gay Republicans, signals to the GOP braintrust that the party's opposition to marriage equality is a net plus in November.

They may be right. I'm just saying.

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