Onward Christian Soldiers
Richard Land, a lobbyist with the Southern Baptist Convention, has argued that "politicians who don't know the radioactive nature of this issue now will by November of 2004." This is a widely held belief on the right. A February 2004 Pew Research Center survey hints at the political calculus: Among the one-third of Americans who support gay marriage, it's not a deciding issue; only 6 percent would refuse to vote for a candidate who opposed gay marriage. But among the two-thirds of Americans who oppose gay marriage, Pew found the issue had surpassed abortion and gun control as a "make-or-break voting issue": 34 percent would refuse to support a political candidate who did not share their view, a number that jumps to 55 percent among evangelical Christians. Peter LaBarbera, then on the staff of Concerned Women for America, issued a white paper in November 2002 arguing that races for governor, Congress and Senate in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland and Minnesota had been decided in part on the question of gay marriage and gay civil rights--and that in each case, "pro-family" candidates were victorious. (Democratic analysts cite the governor's race in Oregon and the recall election in California as counterexamples, where pro-gay candidates came out on top.) This fall, anti-gay forces hope to pull off a repeat of their successes in 2002.
The anti-gay-marriage movement in Massachusetts has produced more than a dozen candidates who will challenge state Democratic lawmakers on their support for gay marriage, many with strong backing from Governor Mitt Romney. Behind the antigay candidates, says John Marble of the National Stonewall Democrats, is a formidable fundraising machine that is offering the most serious challenge to Massachusetts Democrats in more than a decade. State Democratic leaders say they're planning to spend five times more than they've ever spent on local races to repel the effort. Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, just took a leave from his post to make a quixotic run for Congress against pro-gay Democrat Jim McGovern, and Crews's acting successor, Kris Mineau, is convinced that gay marriage is a "bellwether issue." Mineau points to a special election in March, where Republican Scott Brown, running on his opposition to gay marriage, beat the aide of Democratic, openly gay incumbent Cheryl Jacques for a state legislative seat, in a race described by the Boston Globe as a test of the electoral power of the issue. Mike Gabbard, who led the fight against gay marriage in Hawaii, has thrown his hat into a Congressional race there, and Tom Coburn, a former Congressman who has served on the board of the Family Research Council, is running for US Senate in Oklahoma on an anti-gay marriage plank with James Dobson's help. Mineau says he plans to run voter registration drives and put out voter guides, while Burress reports that churches across the country are chomping at the bit to get more directly involved in politics, angling for legislation that would allow ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit.
Burress is involved right now in a signature drive to put a constitutional amendment on the Ohio ballot codifying marriage as between one man and one woman. According to Marble, six such initiatives are already on state ballots (in Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah), and seven more--some in such swing states as Oregon and Ohio--are in the offing. Since these initiatives aren't bound by campaign-finance rules, deep-pocketed right-wing funders could pour millions into voter mobilization drives in these states, as long as they target the ballot initiatives. And this could provide some long coattails for Christian right candidates, including Coburn and George W. Bush.
Marble, a former Christian right activist himself, sees the 2004 elections as "a last gasp" for the movement against gay marriage. With the clock ticking, says Marble, the Christian right will throw everything they have into 2004, "and they are going to get something out of it." It remains to be seen whether that means actual electoral and legislative success in key states, or the more limited victory of a religious right that is re-infused with energy yet isolated from the American mainstream. A Gallup poll, conducted in early May, found that opposition to gay marriage had already slipped to 55 percent, from 65 percent in December. And polls have consistently shown an age gap, with gay marriage far more widely accepted by the young. "Up to this point, we've had antigay politicians talk about the threat of gay marriage, the worst-case nightmare scenario," Marble says. "By the next election, they'll have to deal with the reality, and people will see that the reality of gay marriage is not so scary at all."