Obama Backs Gay Marriage-How Will It Impact the Presidential Race?

President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage has, not surprisingly, brought impassioned responses on all sides of the debate. Those who have supported gay rights and same-sex equality, who have been disappointed in what they saw as unfulfilled campaign promises, have a new sense of hope and energy. But conservative Christians, strong in their belief that the Bible defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, may also have new incentive to mobilize against President Obama.

Statistics Show a Slight Majority Favor Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry

In a Gallop poll released on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, the support for gay marriage was split pretty evenly. A Washington Post poll released this week indicated that 52% of those asked felt that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and to enjoy the benefits of marriage. The New York Times reported yesterday that a PollingReport.com survey showed that 50% approved gay marriage and that 45% opposed it. A more telling statistic, though, was the finding that opposition to gay marriage has been steadily decreasing since 2004, at a rate of two to three percentage points per year.

The Impact of the President’s Announcement on the Election

Opinions are mixed on the impact that the support of gay marriage will have on President Obama’s reelection campaign. Many opposed to same-sex marriage believe it will mobilize more voters against him, but there is also strong opinion that those who oppose Obama’s views on same-sex marriage would vote against him anyway.

The President has acknowledged that the decision may cost him at the polls. In an interview with ABC news on Wednesday, May 9, he told Robin Roberts that, because of the politics of the issue, as well as the way the Electoral College works, the decision “may hurt me.” As politically risky as the mere statement of support for gay marriage was, supporters of same-sex marriage believe that the President may risk losing any political capital gained by the announcement if he does not take specific steps to follow through.

President Obama said that he had not made a public statement on gay marriage before because he believed that the availability of a civil union was sufficient, as it would allow gay partners access to most rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples. He also acknowledged a sensitivity and respect for the word “marriage” and the powerful religious and cultural connotations it carries.

It remains to be seen if the issue of gay marriage will be a central issue in the campaign. The risks are clear. With states like North Carolina, which adopted a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage this week by a three to two margin, as key states in the November election, the announcement may have long-lasting repercussions.

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