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On The Politicial Impact Of President Obama Endorsing Same-Sex Marriage

Inevitably, the question about President Obama’s announcement today that he was personally in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry will be what political impact it will end up having both on the 2012 election and over the longer term. The conventional wisdom for some time now has been that the President and his political advisers have been holding off on publicly taking a position on same-sex marriage because of the potential political consequences. The fears, of course, are two fold. First, there’s the possibility that the President taking this position would serve to energize opponents of same-sex marriage in the same manner that they were energized in 2004 when a number of states, most specifically states like Ohio, had referendums against same-sex marriage on the ballot on the same day as the Presidential election. There’s some not insubstantial evidence that this helped increase turnout for Bush supporters in crucial districts enough help impact the outcome of the election (and you will remember that the 2004 election was decided in Ohio). Second, there’s the possibility that they would antagonize Obama supporters who oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons, which is a substantial issue in the African-American and Latino communities. For that reason, most people thought that the President would likely refrain from making any comments about this issue until after the election.

As I noted earlier, though, the Administration’s hand was forced by a number of factors beginning with Vice-President Biden’s comments on Meet The Press. Now, the question is what this means for the President’s political future. Admittedly, coming out in favor of same-sex marriage is far less of a political risk than it might have been during the Clinton Administration when public opposition to was in the 70% range. Today, polls show that the nation is roughly divided on the issue , with a slight majority favoring legalization. As James Joyner and I have both noted here at OTB in the past, that is actually a fairly striking change in public opinion over a remarkably short period of time. More important, the only political group among which there is still strong opposition to same-sex marriage is Republicans, all other groups, including the all-important Independents, support it. Furthermore, it’s fairly obvious that gay marriage itself is far down at the bottom of the list of issues that voter say they are most concerned about as we approach the 2012 elections. Arguably, then, the President isn’t taking much of a risk by coming out publicly now, especially considering that most of the people who are going to be upset by this announcement were never going to vote for him anyway.

Jonathan Bernstein contends that the President’s announcement will have little political impact:

My guess is that, as an electoral event, Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is about 99 percent hype.

For those who strongly support Obama’s new position, it’s unlikely that this changes anything. Yes, some marriage-equality advocates had talked about withholding support unless the president “evolved.” But realistically, there was no way that political activists — people accustomed to the normal give-and-take of politics — were not going to appreciate the wide gulf between Obama and Mitt Romney on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Without this statement they might have needed more careful tending, but they weren’t going to walk away from their best ever ally in the White House.

The same is true for strong opponents of Obama’s new position. It’s highly unlikely that anyone who, otherwise was fine voting for Obama despite disagreeing with him on ending “don’t ask don’t tell” and each of the other measures he has supported and in many cases has enacted, would draw the line here. Nor is it likely that anyone not already energized by Obama’s record on cultural issues will suddenly find this to be the thing that gets them off the couch.

And what of everyone else? The millions of Americans, most likely a large majority, who don’t really care very much? They’re still not going to care very much. My guess is that the conventional wisdom is correct: Anyone pushing hard on the marriage issue in either direction risks seeming out of touch with those who care a lot more about the economy or other issues. So if you think that Obama’s evolution will make that happen, then you have something . . . but it’s hard for me to see it. After all, the president doesn’t really have much of a role in the next steps on the issue, which will be taken by the courts and the states.

One could argue, of course, that the issue of the courts will become important here, though, especially given the fact that whoever serves as President from January 20, 2013 to January 20, 2017 could potentially appoint as many as four new Justices to the Supreme Court depending on retirements and the health of individual Justices. Both Republicans and Democrats will make an issue of that, of course,  but I tend to think it will work out about the same way that Bernstein outlines. People who are worried Obama will appoint Justices who might find that the 14th Amendment includes a right to same-sex marriage aren’t going to vote for him anyway.

The next several days are likely to be filled with political reactions to the President’s announcement, but in the end I doubt that any of it will have a real impact on the election itself. The right will see it as further proof that Democrats are “at war against the American family,” but they were going to oppose Obama anyway. African-American Pastors aren’t going to be happy about this, but in the end the African-American community is not going to abandon the first African-American President over this issue. It will be a great topic for the talking heads, of course, and it will be a wonderful opportunity for conservatives to beclown themselves with yet more idiotic comments about homosexuals. But as far as impacting the election goes, I think we’re looking at gentle tide rather than a tsunami.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Leslie G. says:

    However, it has the potential to rev up support among youth voters, and of course boost $$$ from LGBT donors!

    :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  2. anjin-san says:

    As I noted earlier, though, the Administration’s hand was forced by a number of factors beginning with Vice-President Biden’s comments on Meet The Press.

    Of course the possibility that Biden was deliberately sent out as a stalking horse on this issue never entered your mind.

    No, of course not.

    Both sides do it. Elections don’t matter. Nothing to see here folks. That is all…

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

  3. al-Ameda says:

    I believe the net effect of the announcement will be to give base Democrats a boost; many younger Democrats feel (whether justly or not) that Obama has not stood tall in support of Democratic issue. This should help the president. In fact, it might help Obama a bit with so-called independents.

    Conservatives? They’re are already motivated – they’re at capacity right now in their contempt for this president, therefore there will be no net gain for them on this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  4. @anjin-san:

    That thought had crossed my mind, and I mentioned it in a post on Monday, but the extent to which the WH was pushing back against Biden’s comments suggested that this was NOT part of a coordinated plan. Given the Vice-President’s penchant or speaking before thinking that strikes me as a logical conclusion.

    Perhaps you are right, though. Maybe this was all a plan. If so, it was very oddly executed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    I too, find it hard to believe that Biden was deployed so artfully. I think Obama and his team caucused and decided, ‘why not now?’ It will help them with the younger demographic and they’re going to need that turnout.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Stan25 says:

    Speculation here: Obama was going to announce that he would support gay marriage closer to the election, probably after the DemocRATic convention. Biden more or less forced his hand to announce earlier, because of the statement he made on Meet the Depressed. I may be all wet here, but that is the only reason that I can think of why he made the announcement today. Oh and he was running out of money and needed a quick infusion of cash.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 28

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Very much approve of the word ‘beclown.’ I intend not only to use it, but Romney style, will pretend I came up with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  8. Eric says:

    What I think would be interesting is that Obama has now set a precedent for future Democratic presidents. He is the first president to officially support gay marriage. We all knew that Obama supported these views (repeal of DADT, and DOJ deciding to not follow a certain rule in DOMA), but now he made it official.

    This won’t impact much, but now we’ll be hearing culture wars and Romney would probably need to make a statement of some sort.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Tillman says:

    African-American Pastors aren’t going to be happy about this, but in the end the African-American community is not going to abandon the first African-American President over this issue.

    I’m not so sure. The inability of black pastors to see this as a possible civil rights issue, and their pains to market the state solution like they did in NC, might lead to some shaving off of the black vote. Hell, we might even see some good old-fashioned anti-whitie racism: Obama’s half-white, after all.

    These people believe hard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  10. al-Ameda says:

    @Stan25:

    DemocRATic convention.

    Meet the Depressed

    the only RAT I’m aware of is Willard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  11. Jeremy R says:

    One could argue, of course, that the issue of the courts will become important here, though, especially given the fact that whoever serves as President from January 20, 2013 to January 20, 2017 could potentially appoint as many as four new Justices to the Supreme Court depending on retirements and the health of individual Justices. … People who are worried Obama will appoint Justices who might find that the 14th Amendment includes a right to same-sex marriage aren’t going to vote for him anyway.

    They already should have been important, as Romney has cravenly pledged to make same sex marriage a litmus test for his judicial nominees and attorney general:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20088274-503544.html

    I, Mitt Romney, pledge to the American people that if elected President, I will:

    Two, nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and to applying the original meaning of the Constitution, appoint an attorney general similarly committed, and thus reject the idea our Founding Fathers inserted a right to gay marriage into our Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. :LaMont says:

    Although the masses are trending toward same sex marriages, there are many that are still not on board. The significance of what President Obama stated today, though possibly politically calculated, is that it represents a stance on a very polarizing issue that other presidents wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Then you have Mit Romney…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’ll help Obama with fundraising, especially in the very near term.

    It’ll subtract some amount of net votes (impossible to determine in advance the exact number) in places like Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, each of which recently voted by overwhelming margins to ban same-sex marriages. I seriously doubt by itself that it could flip the outcome in any state, however.

    It might cause Team Romney further to rope-a-dope itself, assuming they’re dumb enough to allow themselves again to be baited off message.

    That aside, I can’t see how this materially would affect the election. We know who’ll be voting for Obama. We know who’ll be voting against Obama. For those who truly occupy the political middle the issue of same-sex marriages is not at all paramount.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  14. Jeremy R says:

    The President on NC Amend.1 back in March:

    http://projects.newsobserver.com/under_the_dome/obama_opposes_amendment_one

    March 16, 2012

    President Barack Obama today came out against the proposed constitutional amendment on North Carolina’s May 8th ballot banning same sex marriages and civil unions, weighing into a fight in a key battleground state.

    His campaign issued a statement saying the amendment was discriminatory.

    “While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples,” said Cameron French, his North Carolina campaign spokesman.

    “That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do – it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples – and that’s why the President does not support it.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. the Q says:

    As a Democrat who believes that our primary role should be to crush forever conservative philosophies which have literally bankrupted us fiscally and morally, I am highly frustrated that the Dems have to spend SO much political capital on an issue which is so peripheral and affects such a small portion of the electorate.

    If I could destroy supply side, bush tax cuts, no inheritance tax conservative dogmas and sacrifice the word “marriage” for “unions” I would do it in a heart beat.

    This gay issue has greatly contributed to narrow losses to Dems and really serves no purpose but to placate a highly vocal but small group of Dem supporters.

    I can’t tell you how many right of center types (read rednecks) that I know who are surprisingly quite comfortable with the civil union angle (whereby gays get every legal right etc as straight marriages) but who object to the word “marriage”. For many, “marriage” is not a legal, civil term but a religious one.

    I have no problem with gay marriage, but as a political strategist, this issue (for now) can cost us in a big way.

    Look at the article here on OTB about NC passing by a wide margin.the ban on gay marriage initiative.

    As I recall, Obama won NC and maybe, just maybe, he may lose because of this issue.

    The insistence by the gays on the word marriage and their complete denial of compromise definitely hurts the Dems.

    Here is what Obama should do: get all the LBGT leaders in a room and tell them that they should get in all 50 states civil union legislation passed which will guarantee them all rights etc of a traditional “marriage”. Since this issue is breaking their way the past few years, the idea that all 50 states recognize same sex “unions” will greatly mitigate the stigma of gay unions (which it already has done.) The strident hammering on the inclusion of the word ‘marriage” is politically incapacitating to many Dems in swing states as this is really seen as a subterfuge for the “legitimizing” of the gay lifestyle.

    Destroying the insidious class warfare and disastrous foreign neocon wars of the repubs should be high on the list of Democratic party.priorities. Expending copious amounts of precious political capital for a small group to feel better about themselves is ludicrous and self defeating.

    This gay “marriage” issue could be the equivalent of the Ralph Nader vanity campaign which begat the great idiot’s election in 2000.

    This indigence by Nader was unforgivable as we will deal with its aftermath for years.

    In short, the constant pandering of the Dems the past 20 years to radical gay rights groups has left the door open for radical, idiotic conservatives to capture seats in closely contested races, while giving the vast majority of Dems little in return.

    The selfish gays who could care a whit less about destroying reoubs if it means that they would have to settle for civil “unions” instead of “marriage” rankles me to no end.

    What other segment of the Democratic Party gets this kind of treatment?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 20

  16. JBJB says:

    Oh come on, he finally came out because his big gay donors were about to close off the spigot and sit the election out. This being spun as some principled stand is a joke, he is desperate for campaign cash, just like any other politician.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 15

  17. legion says:

    I find it absolutely adorable that some conservatives are using this as evidence that Obama is pandering for cash. Over at MSNBC they’re saying “Gay Money” is now replacing “Wall Street Money”. Really? As if every dime owned by every gay in the country put together would even be within three orders of magnitude of “Wall Street Money”! Now I’m not saying there wasn’t any political dimension to this decision – he is a politician after all – but to sound off the day after gay marriage supports were soundly defeated in NC in support of the side that lost doesn’t sound like a decision driven by cash. ..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  18. the Q says:

    Before the homophobe accusations come my way, let me reiterate that I have no problem personally with gay marriage, rather I am speaking above as a Dem strategist who believes that had gays “settled” temporarily with getting civil unions recognized first, the leap to “marriage” would be easier and would not jeopardize so many other more important Dem objectives.

    Your take?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 9

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    @Stan25:

    Speculation here: Obama was going to announce that he would support gay marriage closer to the election, probably after the DemocRATic convention. Biden more or less forced his hand to announce earlier, because of the statement he made on Meet the Depressed.

    Wow! Two Limbaugh quotes from 1992 in one explosive comment! I bet when you write that at Red State everyone gushes about how intelligent you are, but unlike your compatriots we aren’t dim.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  20. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Stan25: Please be a little more oblique in your Limbaughesque references in the future…it gives you away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  21. Herb says:

    @legion:

    “I find it absolutely adorable that some conservatives are using this as evidence that Obama is pandering for cash. “

    It is cute, innit? Of course, who else has been using the gay marriage issue to raise cash? Every conservative Republican with his hand out for Evangelical money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  22. michael reynolds says:

    First: Yes, there is obviously some political risk for Mr. Obama. Denying it is absurd. Romney’s people will raise 10 million on this issue alone.

    Second: Yes, there is politics involved. Duh. Politicians = Politics.

    Third: We have no evidence to prove the president felt trapped by Biden’s remarks, nor any way to disprove it.

    Bottom line: Good for Mr. Obama. I don’t care how people get right, just that they get right. With this statement he got right, and he drew a line with the GOP and now the GOP will once again — like evidence was lacking — prove themselves to be out of touch and mean-spirited.

    Win or lose in electoral terms, we are right and conservatives are wrong. Again.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  23. Drew says:

    Golly gee willikers……this guy “evolves” really fast…………when the politics are right. Snicker

    At least he didn’t do what he is wont to do, and vote “present”

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 22

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Drew:
    Can you demonstrate that the politics are right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I think that the primary impact of this is to signal that the leader of the Democratic Party supports gay marriage, thus making it a 100% valid policy position within the Democratic Party. He’s basically giving cover – and time – to everyone else who wants to “evolve” this cycle, as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  26. anjin-san says:

    It does create an interesting problem for Romney. How does he take a weasel boy position without looking too much like a weasel boy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  27. anjin-san says:

    Speaking of politics, the crackers over at foxnews.com have a huge banner headline about how Putin “Dissed” Obama.

    Charming. Guess you don’t really have to hide your racist tendencies on the right these days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  28. walt moffett says:

    Will be interesting to hear the if-by-whiskey speeches in the downstate races.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. superdestroyer says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I wish that when progressives say young voters they really mean upper middle and upper class white 20-something that live on the East Coasts.

    considering that the 20 y/o demographic is barely 50% white and that non-whites have shown no interested in homosexaul poliitics. In addition, I doubt if the children of poor white single mothers or the children of blue collar families who face horrible job prospects and face competition from illegal immigrants really care about homosexual politics.

    The massive attention paid to homosexuals and their politics is a massive testament to their affluence and their dominance of so many career fields in DC, NYC, Boston, SF, and LA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  30. G.A. says:

    Can you demonstrate that the politics are right?

    When are the politics not right for a Liberal to lie for votes.

    Golly gee willikers……this guy “evolves” really fast…………when the politics are right. Snicker

    Yup,all the way back to his old position…..

    I keep telling you guys that evolution is bull crap but you don’t believe me….

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 15

  31. superdestroyer says:

    @Tillman:

    Blacks will never abandon the Democratic Party no matter how badly the Democrats treat them. Being a Democrat is just part of Black Culture in the U.S. and nothing, no position, no economic condition is going to change that.

    My guess is that the internal polling of the Democrats shows that they are going to win in November in a rout without North Carolina, so the decision was made to concede North Carolina and appeal to a very affluent, very urban, very powerful block inside the DEmocratic Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  32. Hey Norm says:

    Drew pulls out the “present” myth.
    So cute.
    And so wrong…all the friggin’ time.
    How do you become the worlds greatest corporate financier when you don’t have a clue?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  33. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    there is no downside for what President Obama did from a political point of view. It rewards a powerful, loyal block inside the Democratic Party while alienating voters who were never going to vote for President Obama.

    One of the problems of decisions makers these days is that they see homosexuals are hipper, more affluent, more educated than virtually any other group in the U.S. That is why the decision makers are so willing to give homosexuals whatever they want.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  34. Hey Norm says:

    Wow…
    Superdestroyer really is a bigot.
    Maybe…just maybe…decision makers see gay people as equals and not second class citizens who are not entitled to the same rights as others.
    I’m just saying…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. bandit says:

    Anything to distract from his abject failure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  36. Hey Norm says:

    Bandit…how’s that lead dogs butt smell???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:
    Yet again you demonstrate the damaging effects of racism and bigotry on the mind. Even an obsessed, single-issue tool like you should know that elections are won or lost in the electoral college. So, why don’t you try again, and explain how this is a political slam-dunk for Mr. Obama in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  38. bandit says:

    @Hey Norm: That’s pretty clever – you should be real proud of yourself

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  39. Kitty_T says:

    @Tillman: I don’t think Obama could do anything to lose much of the black vote. I’m more curious to see if his statement does anything to “evolve” views in the african american community generally.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  40. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Hey Norm: Bandit…how’s that lead dogs butt smell???

    According to President Obama, delicious!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  41. Jenos Idanian says:

    Here’s the most honest way to see it: Take the issue out of the long list titled “Politically expedient lies Obama has told” and move it to the long list titled “Obama promises that have reached their expiration date.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  42. legion says:

    @superdestroyer:

    there is no downside for what President Obama did from a political point of view. It rewards a powerful, loyal block inside the Democratic Party while alienating voters who were never going to vote for President Obama.

    Just take a quick look at actual reality, SD. This announcement was made a day after North Carolina – a state Obama narrowly won last time – explicitly denied gays this right. By taking this position, he does risk losing NC this fall. Obama has alienated a certain chunk of demography – people who don’t want to look bigoted against blacks, but are happy being bigots against gays. The fact that your instinctive hatred of All Things Not Republican blinds you to this is why you’re so sadly ignorant on pretty much every subject.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  43. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    President Obama has such a lead in other states like Virginia, that it is certain that he will win re-election. That is why it is a no-lose situations.

    the real question now is why are the Democrats having their national convention in a state that they will not win and that has taken a position opposed by 100% of the leadership of the Democratic Party?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0