Saturday, June 25, 2011

Could New York's historic gay marriage bill derail Republican hopes for 2012?

Yesterday, New York's State Senate voted to legalize gay marriage in the state of New York and, critically, the New York law will not require gay couples to be residents of New York. Any gay couple from anywhere can travel to New York and get married. Under the U.S. Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause all other U.S. states would be forced to recognize the validity of the marriages performed in New York.

This situation presents a problem for Republicans. Public opinion in the United States has turned decidedly against discrimination against gays. In most public circles homophobic behavior is viewed as negatively as racist behavior. The problem for Republicans is that the most vocal parts of the Republican base remain staunchly homophobic. In a year when the Republican electoral strategy was to have been built around the economy and economic messaging, the Republican base may demand a vocal anti-gay campaign that might backfire on the GOP at the polls.

The current field of GOP presidential candidates embraces a wide spectrum of viewpoints regarding gay marriages. Jon Huntsman is in favor of civil unions for gays while at the other extreme Hermann Cain and Michele Bachmann strongly oppose any kind of marriage or civil union rights for gays and either would probably act to roll back gay marriage rights in any way they could. If Republicans have to choose between candidates who are relatively moderate on the question of gay marriage but who are somewhat electable and candidates who are extremely in their opposition to gay marriage but are potentially unelectable, which will they choose?

Would someone like Michele Bachmann play the gay marriage card in the GOP primaries to crowd out more electable candidates like Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman? I suspect she would, and will.

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