Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Gay Marriage Debate Takes Back Seat to Economy

Bill Clark/Roll Call
With Americans increasingly supporting same-sex marriage, the issue has waned as a political wedge in recent election cycles. Washington, D.C., is one of several governments that allow gay marriage, which is why Jonathan Howard (left) and Gregory Jones could celebrate their wedding at the D.C. Superior Court in March 2010.

As a Senator, George Allen (R) co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and worked a pledge to keep marriage "traditional" into just about every re-election stump speech.

But these days, as Allen tries to get his job back, he doesn't talk about gay marriage. A top campaign aide said the Senator keeps social issues on the back burner and instead talks with Virginians about the issues they raise: gas prices, jobs and the economy, and the need to rein in federal government spending.

Gay marriage just isn't the wedge issue it used to be in the swing state of Virginia, or the rest of the country, for that matter.

"The potency of that issue is going to be dramatically reduced, even from what it was two, four, six years ago," said Chris Barron, co-founder of the conservative gay rights group GOProud.

Recent polls show the majority of Americans now support legal same-sex marriage. And as the languishing economy continues to inform voter sentiment, conservative strategists say the time when gay issues were politically powerful has passed.

The tea party, which wields influence in GOP primaries, tends to eschew engaging on issues such as gay marriage altogether.

"We do not touch social issues in the tea party movement," said Jason Hoyt, a Florida tea party activist based in Orlando. "Those that fully understand the tea party movement understand that it was born on fiscal issues."

Barron said in the 2010 midterm elections, "Republicans were swept into office on a wave that completely ignored same-sex marriage, that completely ignored gay issues."

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean agreed gay marriage would "take a back seat to jobs and economy during the next election," largely because it's not an issue that affects most voters' everyday lives.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, thinks there's more to it than just economic woes.

"Voter sentiment has changed," he said. "Right now, no one can seriously, credibly argue, in court or in state legislatures, that same-sex marriage is an imposition on an unwilling public."

A May Gallup poll showed a majority of Americans favored legal gay marriage for the first time. Fifty-three percent said they thought marriages between same-sex couples should "be recognized by the law as valid." Sixty-nine percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents supported gay marriage, double-digit leaps from a year ago. However, the number of Republicans who support gay marriage, 29 percent, remains unchanged from last year.

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