Minn. Could Test Obama Influence on Gay Marriage
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The political impact of President Barack Obama’s support for gay marriage will be tested this fall in Minnesota, where opponents of a proposed gay marriage ban are hoping the president’s enduring popularity here will help persuade skeptical Democrats to vote it down.
Obama’s trip to Minneapolis on Friday comes three weeks after he announced his full support for the right of same-sex couples to wed, and it’s his first trip since then to a state that will definitely have a gay marriage ban on the November ballot. Voters in Washington, Maine and Maryland - three other states Obama won in 2008 - are expected to vote on gay marriage.
Minnesota’s version, which locals call the "marriage amendment," would toughen current limits on gay rights and etch the ban into the state constitution. Obama won 54 percent of the vote in the state and is expected to win it again this year, so opponents of the ban are hoping enough Minnesotans follow the president’s self-described evolution on gay marriage so they can defeat it.
"We can all make fun of the president for saying he’s evolving, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Minnesota, too," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, which is leading the campaign to defeat the amendment. "What Obama did is he actually demonstrated how a person can go from not thinking about the realities of the situation, to embracing it and affirming it as a fundamental freedom."
Republican nominee Mitt Romney has yet to open an office in Minnesota, and it’s unclear whether he will devote resources to trying to win the Democratic-leaning state that typically sees a certain degree of presidential campaign action every four years. If it doesn’t become a seriously contested presidential battleground, it’s likely the amendment would fail if opponents could simply persuade everyone who votes for Obama to vote against the amendment.
"It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of conversation," said Denise Cardinal, an influential Democratic activist in the state. "There are a lot of older (Democrats), maybe folks from rural areas who might say, ’I don’t really know anybody who’s gay, and this doesn’t really affect me.’"
John Murphy, an expert on presidential rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said it’s not a stretch to think some Democrats previously unlikely to vote in favor of gay rights would be won over by Obama. When presidents take a new stand on a hot-button social issue, Murphy said, it can motivate dedicated party followers to change their own views and stay on the same page as their party’s leader.
"I imagine his newly unequivocal support for gay marriage is likely to convince at least some die-hard Minnesota Democrats to swallow personal qualms they might have in order to give their side a win," Murphy said.
Still, supporters of gay marriage - even in traditionally Democratic states - have had little success convincing voters, losing all 32 recent statewide votes on the issue. Any gains for gay marriage supporters nationally have come through court decisions or legislative action.