If you take a look at the list of ballot propositions and initiatives that CNN thought were important, you’ll find eight attempts to ban same-sex marriage, either by law or by amendment to state constitutions. Seven of the eight passed. Bear in mind that same-sex marriage bans are supposed to be a wedge issues, intended to fuel church-based GOTV drives for Republicans.
But look at the margins and the results:
Arizona: 49% (results still incomplete, appears to be a rejection of the ban). Elected Republican Senator and Democratic Governor.
Colorado: 56% (also rejected, 47%-53%, a different ballot initative which would have established domestic partnerships). No Senate election, elected Democratic Governor.
Idaho: 63%. No Senate election, elected Republican Governor.
South Carolina: 78%. No Senate election, elected Republican Governor.
South Dakota: 52%. No Senate election, elected Republican Governor.
Tennessee: 81%. Elected Republican Senator and Democratic Governor.
Virginia: 57%. Elected Democratic Senator, no gubernatorial election.
Wisconsin: 59%. Elected Democratic Senator and Democratic Governor.
This “wedge” issue seems to have not worked very well for Republicans, at least at the statewide levels, where it was used. In only one case, Virginia, did partisan control of the contested seat change, and that by only the slimmest of margins, under .3% of the overall vote. I bear in mind, however, that this was a very strong election for Democrats because of other issues, which perhaps could have the effect of depressing support for same-sex marriage bans. But the fact that the issue is now seen as more partisan than it was in the past is testament to its incorporation into the toolkit of theocratic politicos.
Personally, I’m still mystified at why it is that anyone would care if two unrelated gay adults wanted to get married. But my intent here is not to argue the merits of the issue, but rather trying to analyze how the issue plays out in electoral politics.
The margins of opposition to this issue have fallen quickly. I recall as recently as 1998 that something like 95% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. (It mystified me then, too.) Only Tennessee and South Carolina posted numbers even approaching that stridency of opposition eight years later. What must have seemed a strange and bizarre idea in 1995 is becoming easier for people to grasp. And as a few more liberal states have adopted same-sex marriage or domestic partnership laws, it has become clear that no particular harm has arisen from this.
Voters are not stupid and their impulse is to do what is good and right. As voters realize that letting gays marry doesn’t alter their lives in any material way, and that it doesn’t even cost any appreciable amount of money, more of them will be inclined to overcome the “ick factor” and say, “Hey, live and let live; how two people choose to live together just plain isn’t any of our business.”
We’re not there yet. But the issue is losing electoral force for those who would rally personal prejudice, perhaps cloaked and legitimized by religion for some, to lend its ugly support to partisan politics.