The Anti-Gay Base Is Shrinking

Author: Evan Wolfson, President and Founder of Freedom to Marry
Publication: The New York Times
Publication Date: April 16th, 2012

Last summer, Freedom to Marry hosted a National Press Club briefing to showcase a message to candidates of both parties from lead pollsters for President Obama and George W. Bush. The pollsters agreed: the political equation has shifted dramatically – with accelerating momentum and growing intensity in favor of the freedom to marry.

Since then, the center of gravity has continued to shift toward support. According to the March 2012 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the freedom to marry than a candidate who opposes, with a full 79 percent saying that they prefer a candidate who supports marriage or that they would not care whether a candidate supported it. Obama 2008 voters are eight times as likely to support a pro-marriage candidate. And Independents are twice as likely to vote for a candidate in favor of the freedom to marry. No wonder that in the 2011 National Journal survey of political insiders, 84 percent of Democratic operatives said the party should champion the freedom to marry, and only 14 percent thought the party should avoid the question – a lesson heeded by rising stars like Governors Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley in New York and Maryland.

On the Republican side, back-to-back victories say it even more powerfully than the improving polling: In New York, a Republican-led chamber passed last year’s freedom to marry bill into law, with G.O.P. senators providing the margin of victory on top of virtually all the Democrats. Perhaps even more remarkably, a few weeks ago Freedom to Marry led a New Hampshire campaign to block a repeal of the state’s marriage law. In a House chamber that is 75 percent Republican, two-thirds of the lawmakers rejected the repeal, with a majority of Republicans voting to uphold the freedom to marry.

As they look past a dwindling anti-gay slice of their base, smart Republicans know they need to get in step with their own professed values – freedom, responsibility, small government – not to mention America’s majority for marriage. Meanwhile, Freedom to Marry’s call on the president and the Democratic Party to embrace a “freedom to marry” platform plank has won support from numerous party leaders, elected officials and tens of thousands of Democrats online.

Candidates who support the freedom to marry have lots to gain, and little to lose, benefiting from enthusiasm, donations and votes. The wedge has lost its edge: 2012 is not 1996 or even 2004. Supporting the freedom to marry is not just the right thing, but, happily, the right thing politically.