The Big Questions: How Does Same-Sex Marriage Play as a Political Issue?

Reuters
Reuters

Mark Halperin’s answers this week in TIME.

How does same-sex marriage play as a political issue now?

As Americans move inexorably toward greater tolerance for gay marriage, the issue’s electoral potency has diminished. The canary in the coal mine was the reaction to the 2009 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage: some justices lost their jobs, but public response in the heartland state was mostly muted. The New York legislature’s recent action, with its blast of positive attention, could lead other states to endorse the practice rather than induce a backlash.

Has the Republican Party changed on the issue?

Some Bush alumni (Dick Cheney, former Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman) publicly support legalization, but theirs is still very much a minority view at the grass roots. In fact, Jon Huntsman’s backing of limited civil unions is seen as a barrier to his winning the GOP nomination. Still, few Republican candidates or strategists are likely to push the issue in 2012, because they believe the best way to beat Barack Obama is to sidestep social issues and focus on jobs and the economy. Also, some prized and rapidly growing demographic groups, including younger and unmarried voters, are turned off by opposition to same-sex unions.

So why does Obama seem ambivalent about his stated opposition to gay marriage?

Many observers believe that the President privately supports gay marriage but feels locked into publicly opposing it until the public’s attitude shifts more dramatically. Obama has acknowledged that his stance is “evolving” but so far has dodged opportunities to change it. Many gays and lesbians have expressed grave disappointment with the President — a sentiment that would switch to elation if he were to announce a shift in his position before Election Day.

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