Gay marriage may come to the fore in US presidential poll

May 17th, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 17 (IANS) Gay marriage may emerge as a tricky issue in the US presidential elections with a top California court striking down a state ban on union between two persons of the same sex. While bread and butter issues are likely to dominate the November elections, the politically volatile issue may be pushed into centre stage with opponents collecting signatures to put a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to vote.

The Republican-dominated California Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a 4-3 opinion that there was no legally justifiable reason why the state should withhold the institution of marriage because of a couple’s sexual orientation.

To overturn the ruling, a coalition of religious and conservative activists has submitted 1.1 million signatures to qualify a November constitutional amendment to say, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California”.

All three presidential candidates left in the fray, Republican John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are opposed to gay marriages and say it’s an issue best left to the states.

Not one has shown any eagerness to make the issue a priority, noted the New York Times, but the court ruling could put the issue back onto the national political stage. “In the process, it should offer a test of whether the issue is resonant in American politics or whether it has fallen to the side of the road, as many Democrats and some Republicans say.”

All three chose their words carefully in their first responses to the court ruling. McCain reiterated his belief that states have a right to ban same-sex marriage. Obama and Clinton emphasised support for civil unions and equal rights for same-sex couples. But the court’s ruling could out pressure on them to make their views more explicit.

McCain’s success, the Los Angeles Times suggested, depends on melding a fractious coalition of Republicans conservatives - who are among those pressing for a ban on same-sex marriage - with independents and conservative Democrats who tend to recoil from candidates campaigning on social issues.

Although a November ballot measure could encourage higher turnout by conservatives who are not naturally aligned with McCain, it also could alienate moderates and young voters, who polls show are far more accepting of same-sex marriage, it said.

“It’s a situation that makes it really hard for a Republican who wants to compete for the middle and at the same time hold onto the base,” it said citing University of California Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain.

“McCain is going to be asked over and over again, ‘Where are you on this issue?’ Then it seems he either has to abandon the ’straight talk express’ and change his view, or live with the consequence of not giving the Christian right what they want.”

Obama and Clinton had sketched out a more centrist path than the court’s. The court ruling could encourage Democratic interest groups to press candidates to extend their support for civil unions to same-sex marriage itself, the Times said.

Democratic consultants said that the different mix of issues and voters this year may limit the effect of a same-sex marriage initiative. Voters this year are fixed on the economy and the war in Iraq.

To date, 26 states have approved constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. In the last few years, courts in New York, Maryland and Washington states have refused to allow gay marriage, and New Jersey’s highest court gave the state lawmakers the option of establishing civil unions as an alternative.

Massachusetts is the only other state to legalise gay marriage, something it did in 2004. More than 9,500 same-sex couples in that state have wed.

With 38 million people in the 302 million US population, California has an estimated 108,734 same-sex households, according to 2006 census figures.

In 2000 too, the year after the Legislature enacted the first of a series of laws awarding spousal rights to domestic partners, California voters were asked to express their views on same-sex marriage at the ballot box.

“Proposition 22″, which strengthened the state’s 1978 one-man, one-woman marriage law with the words “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” passed with 61 percent of the vote.

The issue again came to the fore in the 2004 presidential election with Republicans seeking to maximize turnout of conservative evangelical Christians by running anti-gay initiatives in swing states, including Ohio and Florida.

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