November 04, 2004

The 'backlash' against same-sex marriage.

Where do you think it would be the biggest? If your answer was that you'd look for it in the states where lesbian and gay marriages have already taken place, think again.

As the AP reports, there was no backlash against legislators who supported gay marriage in Massachusetts, where the high court ruled last year that the state constitution requires authorities to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state legislature responded to that ruling by passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages (although allowing civil unions). At the time, 92 legislators voted against the amendment, and predictions were that many of them would be voted out of office in November.

Well, election day has come and gone, 84 of the anti-amendment legislators were up for re-election. All of them were re-elected. In addition, the new speaker of the state House is a supporter of lesbian and gay rights. Since Massachusetts law requires any constitutional amendment to be voted on and passed by two successive sessions of the state legislature, the fate of the amendment against same-sex marriage is now in doubt.

"The vote in Massachusetts is proof positive of what we've said, which is that this is not a career-ending vote," said Arline Isaacson, co-leader of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus....

"Our state is certainly totally out of step with the rest of the nation," said Kris Mineau, leader of the Massachusetts Family Institute, the organization that has led the fight against gay marriage in Massachusetts.

"Massachusetts residents must be beginning to ask themselves, 'How come we're different than the rest of the country?'"

One possible difference is that same-sex marriage has been a reality in Massachusetts for six months, rather than the hypothetical threat feared by citizens in other states. Hundreds of same-sex couples have been wed in Massachusetts without uproar since the spring.

Oregon is another state where same-sex marriages have been performed, and voters here (it's this magpie's home) gave mixed messages. Statewide, Oregon voters approved the anti-gay Measure 36 by a 57% to 43% vote. That measure adds a ban on gay marriage to the state constitution. In Multnomah County, where 3000 same-sex marriages took place last spring, the vote was almost directly opposite — 63 percent of county voters voted to reject the measure.

Multnomah County voters also returned county commissioner Lisa Naito to office. As chair of the commission, Naito was a prime mover behind the decision to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples last March, and she had been targeted for defeat by opponents of same-sex marriage. And in Portland, the county's largest city, both candidates for mayor supported same-sex marriage. (Winner Tom Potter has a lesbian daughter.)

The results in Massachusetts and Multnomah County suggest that the 'conventional wisdom' about support for same-sex marriage being the kiss of death for an officeholder's chances for re-election aren't exactly true. In areas where marriages have actually taken place, voters don't seem to have much of a response to attempts by the religious right to make same-sex marriage an issue. Democratic tacticians and lesbian/gay rights organizers should take note.

[The lack of a backlash against same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and urban Oregon reminds us of another interesting fact about the 2004 national election: Dubya's support was extremely low in New York and Washington, DC, the two cities that were hit by terrorist attacks in 2001.]

Posted by Magpie at November 4, 2004 10:00 PM | US Politics | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |