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Why GOP reaction is muted as judge affirms gay marriage rights

GOP conservatives may not be itching for a culture war over a judge's decision overturning California's gay marriage ban. Economic issues, not cultural ones, are their focus heading into Election 2010.

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In 2004, Republicans introduced 11 measures against same-sex marriage in various states, as part of a strategy to attract conservative voters to the polls at a time when President George W. Bush was running for reelection. President Bush himself railed against activist judges and backed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

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But the gay marriage issue, after years in the culture-wars limelight, may be losing its luster as a hot-button political wedge, writes Peter Dreier on the Huffington Post website. He points to polls showing that a majority of Americans have gay or lesbian friends.

"The gay rights movement has won Americans' hearts and minds," he writes. "The tide has turned. Opponents can try, but they can't push it back."

But protests like those Saturday in Atlanta show that Americans remain deeply divided not only over gay marriage, but also over the courts' role, which some see as a judicial fiat to impose a minority view on the majority. Prop. 8, which outlawed gay marriage, passed with 52 percent of the vote in California.

"The debate over gay marriage is, for some, a case in which government policy is being misused as a way to secure popular validation of a lifestyle to which some people, on moral grounds, strongly object," writes US News & World Report's Peter Roff.

Some conservative political operatives note that the Prop. 8 case may, in fact, become an issue in individual races in closely contested races where it could give one side an edge.

But Republicans have good reason to leave the Prop. 8 debate alone, Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, told Politico. “A modern party does not want a campaign that’s built around a crusade on gay rights. ...[I]t won’t work, for one thing, and for another, it’s so controversial that it would obscure the nonpartisan appeal of the economic issue," he said.

[Editor's note: The photo caption in an earlier version of this story misstated the day that the photo was taken.]