In yet another bid to put social issues at the forefront of the November campaign, Democrats are very publicly adding a plank to their convention platform supporting gay marriage. They will also include language calling for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law passed during the Clinton Administration that defined marriage as the union between and man and a woman. What isn't clear though, is what specific form the endorsement of gay marriage will take.
The debate over gay marriage has largely played out at the state level. Is the Democrats' position simply that, as a party, they will support gay marriage wherever the debate rises in the states? Or, are they going to support a federal effort to enact a federal right to gay marriage? The current law defining marriage as between a man and a woman is already constitutionally dubious. It's doubtful that a federal law that was explicitly pro-gay marriage would fare any better. I am also curious to see if their final language provides any kind of religious exemption. Can priests or imams refuse to wed a gay couple?
To a degree, the Democrats' move was politically inevitable. The issue is wildly popular among its hard-core most activist base and donors. Still, i's an interesting move at a convention held in North Carolina, a swing state whose voters recently overwhelmingly rejected gay marriage. And Obama's struggles in the polls have been greatest among white, lower-income voters who tend to have more conservative views on such issues.
Personally, I'm rabidly agnostic on the issue of gay marriage. Marriage is just something I don't think the government has much business mucking about it in. I think eventually there will be fairly wide recognition of gay marriage, but that time is not now.
This could complicate a number of campaigns, especially down-ballot. Democrats are engaged in tough Senate battles in Missouri, Virginia, Montana and West Virginia, where Democrat candidates may have to distance themselves from the new party stance. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan are home to loads of blue-collar Democrats who still "cling" to a traditional view of marriage. Hard to imagine Sen. Bob Casey championing the new position, for example.
In fact, the campaign's battleground states are almost all places where support for gay marriage isn't yet an electoral winner. I think this is mostly a case of a platform committee being swayed by an ardent, single-issue constituency, as has happened at times to both parties.
No matter what the Democrats or the media try to talk about, this campaign is going to be decided on economic issues. The more Democrats try to distract from that, the fewer chances they get to lay out an economic message that will sway voters.
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