Gay marriage: Will Supreme Court drive angry voters to polls?

Conservatives are furious that the US Supreme Court has overturned gay marriage bans in five states, with others to follow. They are putting out voter guides and knocking on doors. 

J Pat Carter/AP/File
Anti-gay marriage protesters stage a rally during a court hearing on gay marriage in Miami, Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

Social conservatives are furious over the US Supreme Court’s move to let stand lower-court rulings overturning gay marriage bans in five states.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas called it “tragic and indefensible.” Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association called it “unconscionable, unconstitutional, and un-American.” Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah, one of the five states involved, bemoaned how “unelected, politically unaccountable judges” have thwarted the wishes of individual states.

But will that anger turn into actual votes in battleground states in the Nov. 4 midterms? Or more precisely, are there people who will now vote who otherwise would not have?

A day after the high court’s bombshell, the jury is still out. But early indications are that all the sound and fury may not result in a whole lot of extra votes for Republicans.

Take Iowa, where there’s a hot race for an open US Senate seat. The Democrat, Rep. Bruce Braley, supports gay marriage. The Republican, state Sen. Joni Ernst, does not. Last year, she cosponsored a bill to ban gay marriage via an amendment to the state constitution. Iowa has had same-sex marriage since 2009, when the state Supreme Court legalized it. Social conservatives have been trying to undo the ruling ever since.

Bottom line, social conservatives were already motivated in Iowa. The US Supreme Court’s move on Monday “just helps ensure that they will turn out,” says Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

His group is organizing a massive get-out-the-vote effort, including more than 350,000 voter guides and 375,000 pieces of snail mail.

In all, Mr. Scheffler says, “there are going to be 1.4 million voter contacts in Iowa – social media, direct mail, phoning, and door knocking.”

Another driver of turnout in Iowa is the battle for control of the state Senate, which currently has a slim Democratic majority, 26 seats to 24 seats.

“If Republicans can get control of the Iowa Senate, they can begin the process of proposing a constitutional amendment overturning the Iowa same-sex marriage decision,” says Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines.

“That turnout will help [state Senator] Ernst,” he adds. “But I think they were already going to turn out before the [US Supreme] Court’s decision not to take the gay marriage cases.”

In North Carolina, GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis – speaker of the state General Assembly – is fighting for his state’s right to forbid same-sex marriage, as enshrined in a state constitutional amendment passed two years ago by North Carolina voters.

Now, that amendment is on the verge of being overtaken. North Carolina falls under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose ruling allowing gay marriage in Virginia has gone into effect following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Advocates for same-sex marriage in North Carolina pledged to ask a federal judge to strike down the state’s ban, after the high court’s action on Monday. The state attorney general, Roy Cooper (D), has said he will not defend the state’s ban in court. Speaker Tillis and the leader of the state Senate, Phil Berger (R), are exploring their options.

Both Iowa and North Carolina are presidential battleground states, with strong streaks of social conservatism. But plenty of social liberals are in each state, too, and high-profile actions by conservatives could produce a backlash by liberals. Though as with the conservatives, motivated liberals are already going to turn out. So it all might be a wash.

The Supreme Court’s move on Monday may also add new urgency to efforts by conservative groups campaigning against Republicans who support same-sex marriage. Two openly gay Republicans are running for the House: Carl DeMaio of California and Richard Tisei of Massachusetts. Another Republican nominee whom social conservatives oppose is Monica Wehby, who is running for the US Senate from Oregon. She announced her support for gay marriage last month.

Also last month, the heads of three conservative groups – the National Organization for Marriage, Family Research Council Action, and CitizenLink – released a letter urging voters not to support Mr. DeMaio, Mr. Tisei, and Dr. Wehby.

“They are wrong on critical, foundational issues of importance to the American people,” the presidents of the three groups wrote, according to BuzzFeed. “Worse, as occupants of high office they will secure a platform in the media to advance their flawed ideology and serve as terrible role models for young people who will inevitably be encouraged to emulate them.”

It’s not clear what impact the letter might have. California, Massachusetts, and Oregon are all dominated by Democrats, and already have gay marriage. Candidates tend to follow the predominant cultural views of their state’s residents.  

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