Gay Marriage May Affect the 2008 Election

Opponents of same-sex marriage are vowing to take their fight to the voters after the California Supreme Court cleared the way for gays and lesbians to marry.

Even before the ruling Thursday, opponents had gathered more than 1 million petition signatures in favor of a November ballot measure that would overturn the court's decision.

Four years ago, a similar ballot measure drew large numbers of social conservatives to the polls in Ohio. Their turnout in 2004 contributed to President George W. Bush's narrow victory in the state and secured his second term. But the same may not hold true for the Republican presumptive nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, if same-sex marriage appears on the ballot in California and other key states such as Florida.

Social conservatives are already calling the California Supreme Court ruling a wake-up call. "We will be working with many other groups on getting people aware and getting them out to vote in November," said Michelle Hayton of Concerned Women for America of California. CWA is part of a coalition that wants to amend the California constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.

The last time the issue was on the ballot in California eight years ago, voters rejected same-sex marriage by a wide margin. Polls show that a somewhat smaller majority still feels the same way, and many of them are Republicans that McCain needs to woo.

"Don't expect John McCain to be making lots of speeches about gay marriage. It's just not a John McCain kind of issue," said Jack Pitney, a political analyst at California's Claremont McKenna College.

Two years ago, McCain supported an unsuccessful effort to outlaw same-sex marriage in his home state of Arizona, but he opposed a federal ban. McCain is generally more of a live-and-let-live Republican in the mold of another Republican senator and presidential candidate from Arizona, the late Barry Goldwater. McCain writes in one of his books about how Goldwater, who had a gay grandson, became a champion of gay rights.

Impact of Family Ties

Family ties have had the same effect on other politicians' mindset toward same-sex marriage, including San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican and McCain's ally. Sanders was initially opposed to same-sex marriage. But the mayor, whose daughter is gay, reversed himself during an emotional news conference last September.

"I have close family members and friends who are members of the gay and lesbian community," Sanders said. "I couldn't look any of them in the face and tell them their relationship, their very lives, were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife, Rana."

One of McCain's key allies in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has charted a middle path on the issue. He twice vetoed laws that would have legalized gay marriage. He also told a group of gay Republicans last month that he would campaign against the constitutional ban.

"First of all, I think it will never happen in California, because I think California people are much further along in that issue," Schwarzenegger told the Log Cabin Republicans. "And No. 2, I will always be there to fight against that."

California Ruling Felt Nationwide

The biggest political impact of the California court ruling may be felt elsewhere around the country.

"Social conservatives in other states might take California as an example of the liberal agenda on the national level," Pitney said. "Here in California, it's probably not going to have that much of an impact. First, religious conservatives aren't nearly as well organized in California as they are elsewhere. Second, the state probably is not going to be in play in the presidential election."

Florida, however, will be a swing state in the general election once again, where another proposed ban on same-sex marriage could appear on the ballot.