How will New York's gay marriage law affect the 2012 election and beyond?
New York’s new same-sex marriage law could change the dynamic in next year’s elections – particularly for President Obama, who’s tried to straddle the issue.
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But what comes next? And will it have any impact on the 2012 elections, especially President Obama’s reelection bid?
Obama says everyone should have the same legal rights, as he told gay activists at a New York fundraiser Friday night. But his position on same-sex marriage is “evolving,” he says, as if he quite can’t bring himself to commit to a position already endorsed by former first lady Laura Bush, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, and former vice president Dick Cheney.
As the Hill newspaper points out, the issue could rise to political significance early next year when Republican leaders in New Hampshire hope to repeal the state law allowing same-sex marriage – right around the time of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary election.
But beyond 2012, Columbia Law School professor Suzanne Goldberg tells Reuters, "Having same-sex marriage in New York will have tremendous moral and political force for the rest of the country – in part because New York is a large state, and in part because it hasn't come easily,''
But, approving same-sex marriage at the state level is not necessarily a done deal. Elected judges in Iowa who upheld that state’s law have been defeated at the polls. Voters in Maine repealed a law allowing same-sex marriage. And in California, the legal fight over the Prop. 8 ballot measure banning same-sex marriage continues – most recently involving questions over whether a gay judge can fairly hear the case.
In all, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states have laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman (30 of them as part of constitutional language), and so far there seems to be no rush to follow New York.
Still, public opinion seems to be moving inexorably in favor of granting full marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.
In 1996, according to Gallup, just 27 percent of those polled said same-sex marriages should be recognized as legally valid. That figure rose to the low 40s, where it stood through most of this decade, then pushed through the majority mark to 53 percent this year.
But for politicians – particularly Obama – looking not to offend any potential voters, the issue remains tricky. Large majorities of Democrats (69 percent) and Independents (59 percent) are OK with same-sex marriage. So are younger voters by a wide margin (70 percent). But among Republicans and older voters, there is far less support. (Another complicating factor for Obama: Many black religious leaders oppose same-sex marriage.)