McInerney: And you think you’re wrong?
Shepherd: I don’t think you win elections by telling 59 percent of the people that they are.
—Martin Sheen as Chief of Staff A.J. McInerney, and Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd in The American President
On Tuesday, North Carolina voters approved an amendment to their state constitution prohibiting legal recognition of same sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships. Wednesday, immediately following that result—and under considerable pressure from gay rights groups after Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out earlier this week in favor of gay marriage—President Obama announced his thinking on the issue had evolved to the point that he was now publicly, officially, and in every other way in favor of gay marriage.
Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. President. I was really wondering where you’d come down on that issue.
Now, I have my opinion on the subject, and you can probably guess what that is. I’ll leave that for another day. For now, let me say I think we have much bigger fish to fry. For example, I’m wondering just how Obama has been able to give this matter due consideration given that he swore he was focused like a laser on the jobs issue, and “will not rest” until every American has a job—yet unemployment remains stuck above the 8% mark he swore we’d never hit in the first place. I’m wondering why I keep seeing CNN and the New York Times report sensitive national security intelligence matters like the CIA having a double agent within al Qaeda providing critical information on current bombing capabilities and planning—guess that lead’s cold now, eh? I’m wondering whether, despite the growing threat of a nuclear Iran, the Israelis sleep better at night now knowing that Obama is OK with gays being married.
Ultimately, as I’ve posted before, this is a state issue. If states like California and New York want to recognize gay marriage, fine. If states like Texas or North Carolina don’t, fine. Neither is any of the President’s business. The President’s job is to protect and defend the United States Constitution, and marriage—whether in word or in concept—just isn’t in there.
But what I want to focus on today is what I think is a potentially serious political mistake by the President in coming out with this position in a year when he faces an extremely tight re-election campaign. Just as an initial point, he didn’t need to do this from a campaign perspective. The only people he’s really going to get fired up by coming out in support of gay marriage are single-issue gay rights activists, and guess what: those people were gonna vote for Obama anyway. I don’t see what Obama perceives as his upside.
More importantly, however, is the electoral math on the gay marriage issue. The message implicit in the timing of the President’s announcement is unmistakable:
North Carolina, you’re wrong.
Consider, however, that North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes is a swing state. Its voters approved the amendment by an overwhelming 61% to 39%—a staggering margin. That’s a substantial majority of voters to whom the President has effectively just given the bird.
And North Carolina is not alone in either the fact of its opposition to what is now the President’s official position on gay marriage, or in the magnitude of that opposition. North Carolina is now the 30th state to enact a ban against legal recognition of gay marriage in one form or another. Since 1998, this issue has come before voters via referenda on proposals either to establish/expand or prohibit legal recognition of same-sex unions 33 times. The pro-gay-union side has lost 31 of those contests, including losing twicein ultra-gay-pride California. The two wins (Arizona in 2006, and Washington in 2009) were by razor-thin margins, and both require an asterisk (Arizona later passed a constitutional amendment banning recognition of gay marriage in 2008, and Washington’s 2009 referendum was only on expanding rights afforded under a civil union structure that already existed).
Significantly, no state—not even California—has legally recognized gay marriage through a measure voted on by the public. The six states that recognize same-sex marriages, and twelve that recognize civil unions, have all done so either by judicial decree or by legislative action. Over that last 15 years, when presented to the electorate, gay marriage has lost 31 of 33 votes by a total of 47,646,382 to 28,976,321, or an overwhelming 62% to 38%–effectively identical to the margin in North Carolina. In other words, not only has gay marriage been defeated at the polls over and over and over again, but it has been defeated by a nearly 2/3 majority.
CNN can Gallup Poll this until the cows come home. This is where the rubber meets the road.
But here’s where it really gets sticky for Obama if he continues to push this as a campaign issue. Gay marriage has been repeatedly and resoundingly rejected when it’s put to the voters in critical swing states:
Florida (29 electoral votes) 62% to 38% in 2008
Ohio (18 electoral votes) 62% to 38% in 2006
North Carolina (15 electoral votes) 61% to 39% in 2012
Virginia (13 electoral votes) 57% to 43% in 2006
Missouri (10 electoral votes) 71% to 29% in 2004
Even in blue-leaning but potentially in-play states like Michigan (16 electoral votes) and Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), gay marriage was rejected by the voters by a decisive 59% to 41% margin (Michigan in 2004, Wisconsin in 2006). In Iowa (7 electoral votes), when the state Supreme Court struck down a statute defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman, voters responded by removing all three justices out of office; the first time an Iowa supreme court justice had lost a retention bid since 1962. Other key battleground states Indiana (11 electoral votes) and Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) also have statutes defining marriage as the union of a single man and woman, and Virginia (13 electoral votes) did it by constitutional amendment in 2007.
It seems to me the President is really sticking his neck out if he intends to push this issue. He is staking out a position overwhelmingly rejected in five key swing states representing 85 electoral votes. If you conclude that Michigan and Wisconsin are in play, that total moves up to 111. Add in that the President’s position is contrary to statutes or constitutional amendments adopted in Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and it’s 162. In other words, Obama has just come out against a position adopted by decided majorities or by legislative action in 10 swing states comprising well over half the number of electoral votes necessary to win. I count a likely 181 electoral votes as solidly Republican at this point. Obama’s stance on the gay marriage issue by itself could potentially pull as many as 78 to 91 more out of these swing states, yielding 259 to 272, and that’s still conceding Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Conversely, I don’t see Obama picking up any of these states by coming out in favor of gay marriage. I can only assume that Obama’s hope is that Romney will feel compelled to stake out the opposite position, allowing Obama to paint Romney as an intolerant social extremist (as, apparently, are some two-thirds of Americans). The trick for Romney is to not take that bait, and stick to the real issues. Let Obama hang himself on this one by pointing out that all Obama is doing is trying to distract from his record by dividing us on a state issue where the vast majority of Americans have reached a position different than what he’s advocating. Then go right back to the economy, Obamacare, the “green” debacle, Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia.
This is a time for focus.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Coming soon, The Sobering Reality