Will the re-emergence of gay marriage as a presidential issue start a revival of the “Moral Majority”-type revival of religious voters coalescing into a significant activist voting bloc? I think it’s probable, particularly in the southern and Midwest Bible Belt states.
There is a contradiction between polling that shows a small majority for same-sex marriage and how support for same-sex marriage fares when it’s put to a vote. Those opposing gay marriage win, not only in conservative North Carolina, but even in very “blue” states such as California and Oregon. (Apparently some Americans are embarrassed to tell pollsters they oppose same-sex marriage.) The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, in an interesting blog post (read) points out that given the choice, most Americans would prefer that gays and lesbians be granted civil unions, rather than marriage rights. That’s not an acceptable alternative for the gay and lesbian community, and other strong supporters of marriage rights, who have framed the issue as one of civil rights. Any solution that is less than marriage is akin to separate “black,” “white,” water fountains in the Jim Crow South.
And herein lies a revival of sorts of the old “Moral Majority.” There are probably a third of Americans who are opposed to either civil unions or marriage for gays and lesbians. The decision by President Barack Obama to publicly support same-sex marriage, while admirable, has moved an issue that was always percolating on the back burner closer to the front of the stove. In recent campaigns this wasn’t the case. The Tea Party movement, for example, has virtually nothing to say on social issues, let alone gay marriage. Its focus has been on excessive government spending and deficits.
Will gay marriage be the key reason if President Obama loses re-election? Not at all. But, thanks to recent events, a not insignificant portion of the electorate will be motivated to political activism — and the voting booths — due to opposition to it. That’s an event that wasn’t on the horizon even two weeks ago.