Same-sex marriage backers seek Obama endorsement
Author: Joe Garofoli
Publication: San Francisco Chronicle
Publication Date: July 8th, 2011
Click here to read the full article at SFGate.com
Gay rights supporters can't figure out President Obama.
He's done more for them than any president, his Justice Department wants to shred a federal ban on spousal benefits for same-sex couples, and last month he said, "Gay couples deserve the same rights as every couple in this country."
But Obama hasn't endorsed same-sex marriage himself, saying his views on marriage are "evolving." Last week at a White House reception for gay grassroots organizers, one activist wore a button that said, "Evolve already."
Obama's reticence, political experts say, is rooted in the political calculus of his re-election campaign. In what's expected to be a tight race, the calculation is that Obama can't afford to alienate any voters.
Five swing states that Obama won in 2008 - worth 75 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win - have constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex nuptials.
In addition, voters in New Hampshire, a state that Obama won handily, are likely to see a repeal of the state's same-sex marriage law on the ballot next year. In Minnesota, which Obama also won, voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The two states together have another 14 electoral votes.
Conservative lawmakers in North Carolina, where Obama was the first Democrat to win since 1976, plan to put a ban on gay marriage before voters in the next year. Chalk up another 15 electoral votes.
That's 104 electoral votes, the thinking goes, that could be at lost should Obama give his full support to marriage.
But national and state polls say an increasing number of voters support same-sex marriage, including 59 percent of all-important independent voters, according to a Gallup Poll in May.
"If that's the political calculation, it's the wrong calculation," said Rick Jacobs, the leader of the gay rights Courage Campaign in Los Angeles. "People want to elect leaders. And leaders make decisions."
The fallout from Obama's reticence, said Jacobs and others, is that many in the LGBT community, which energetically supported Obama in 2008 with money and on-the-ground muscle, might not be as enthusiastic.
One harbinger: The president was heckled last month at a $1,250-a-plate "Gala With the Gay Community" fundraiser New York by people standing up and yelling, "marriage!"
Instead of being "worried about alienating voters," Obama's campaign "should be worried about energizing voters," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a national organization in favor of same-sex marriage.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has spearheaded some of Obama's fundraising efforts in the LGBT community, hasn't noticed a drop-off yet.
"He is clearly coming closer and closer to supporting marriage equality - but don't get me wrong, there is plenty of frustration out there," Newsom said. "You have every expectation that President Obama, in his second term, will most likely come onboard."
Other supporters, including Andrea Shorter, marriage and coalitions director for Equality California, the state's largest gay civil rights organization, wonder what Obama has to lose by "coming out of the closet" on marriage now.
"He's already done so much for LGBT rights, it's not like anybody who was going to vote for him is going to switch for that reason," Shorter said. "It's frustrating to a lot of people."
But conservative organizations that oppose same-sex marriage plan to spend millions on marriage issues in the presidential year.
The National Organization for Marriage, which led the opposition during New York's passage of legal same-sex marriage last month, expects to spend "at least $15 million" nationally, chairwoman Maggie Gallagher told The Chronicle.
And the Faith and Freedom Coalition, run by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, plans to spend a total of $18 million in as many as 30 states, executive director Gary Marx said.
"This is definitely going to be an election where the economy and jobs are the top issues," said Marx, the national conservative coalitions director for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign in 2004, when voters in 11 states voted down same-sex marriage.
"But for voters who are torn between the candidates," Marx said, "this could be a tiebreaker issue."
Marx said that could be particularly true among African American and Latino voters, which his organization plans to target as they tend to be more conservative on social issues such as marriage.
"That could only become an issue among African Americans if the Republicans make it one," said Gina McCauley, an Obama supporter who founded the Blogging While Brown conference. "Most people won't care. But they may be able to get some people to stay home in a place like North Carolina - and that might be all it takes, it's so close."
But Oakland pollster Amy Simon, who has polled nationally on LGBT issues, said there's "no way" that marriage is a tiebreaker issue.
"There's no inherent risk in Obama coming out on marriage," she said. "The risk is in how he does it."
Polls show that many Americans' views on marriage are evolving just like Obama's.
If the president approaches the issue through his Christian faith, Simon said, "and he's authentic about it, then he will have credibility on the issue. A lot of people are feeling the same way."