Gay marriage ruling may loom over midterm elections
Advocacy groups pledge to make ruling an issue
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge’s decision on Wednesday overturning Proposition 8 — California’s ban on same-sex marriage — has tossed a largely unwanted issue into the middle of the November midterm elections.
The decision, which ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional, has complicated the political tasks before President Obama, whose aides had to explain after the decision that the president supported equal gay rights but opposed marriage rights for gays.
Meanwhile, Republicans said the issue could actually harm Republicans’ chances of winning back one or both houses of Congress this fall. At a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Kansas City, Mo., several party leaders and strategists said it would be a mistake for the midterm election campaign to suddenly become focused on gay marriage, immigration, or other hot-button issues. The only path to winning control of Congress, they said, rested on making an economic argument.
“This election needs to revolve around five issues: taxes, spending, the economy, jobs, and debt,’’ said Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party. “That doesn’t mean that other issues aren’t important — they are important — but the first issue on the minds of people is the economy.’’
Yet, the dread over the same-sex marriage issue was almost palpable yesterday as Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, tried to explain on MSNBC that Obama opposed same-sex marriage, “But he supports equality for gay and lesbian couples, and benefits and other issues, and that has been effectuated in federal agencies under his control.’’
Regardless of worry among party leaders, advocacy groups on both sides made it clear they planned to make same-sex marriage an issue.
“Celebrate this incredible victory by defending it,’’ read one e-mail that went out just after the decision was released. “Will you give just $1 a day to help California’s largest LGBT Political Action Committee elect a governor and attorney general who will refuse to appeal this ruling?’’ LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
The pitch, sent to more than 300,000 supporters of Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights group, was matched by those on the other side of the issue: The National Organization for Marriage sent some of its 250,000 subscribers a plea for cash, readied advertisements rallying people against Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s decision, and prepared for an Aug. 15 rally at the Capitol in Washington.
Other conservative groups were ramping up campaigns against moderate Republicans — like Bill Binnie in New Hampshire and Tom Campbell in California — who are believed to be sympathetic to same-sex marriage.
“I definitely think its going to have an effect on the 2010 elections,’’ said Brian S. Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, who called the decision the beginning of a major national culture war.
“You’re going to see ads, you’re going to see folks standing up on this issue, and the people that support Walker’s decision are going to pay a price,’’ Brown said.
But veterans of the past culture wars say that many people’s attitudes have changed about gays in America.
“I think it still enflames part of the right, but I think increasingly it alienates swing voters,’’ said Robert Shrum, a senior adviser to John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004.