Was Same-Sex Marriage Partly to Blame for Kerry Loss?

When Massachusetts' highest court legalized same-sex marriages and the mayor of San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, it ignited a firestorm across the country.

At the time, some Democrats feared such moves might create a backlash against the Democratic Party in the 2004 election. Today, many Democrats say those fears were realized.

"I believe it did energize a very conservative vote," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a former San Francisco mayor. "I think it gave them a position to rally around."

Conservatives agree.

"The people behind the lawsuits to strike down marriage in courts have seriously misjudged the views of the American people," said Matt Daniels, president of a public policy group called the Alliance for Marriage.

A Big Impact in a Key State

Conservatives in 11 states pushed forward with ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage. All 11 passed, including in the battleground state of Ohio.

Political analysts say it drew Republicans to the polls, most significantly in Ohio. According to an analysis by the ABC News Polling Unit, Ohio saw a five-point increase in turnout among conservatives between 2000 and 2004.

"They sure were highly motivated to turn out the vote against gay marriage," said Ohio Democratic strategist Greg Haas. "That obviously impacted the outcome of the race by at least a couple hundred thousand votes."

Bush won Ohio by only 136,000 votes.

Republicans clearly tried to use the issue to win votes, whether in a Republican National Committee mailing with a picture of a man proposing to another man or in millions of phone calls.

Said one Bush campaign staffer to a potential voter via telephone: "Just want to let you know that President Bush is committed to protecting the unborn, defending marriage and preserving 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance."

"In a lot of these small towns and small cities areas like where I'm from, the turnout was off the charts," Haas said. "It really was you know a very diabolically brilliant move on the part of [Bush adviser] Karl Rove and others to lay this issue out there."

Conservatives argue that the ones who lay the issue before the American people are the judicial activists in Massachusetts and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, although California law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Gay Activists in Shock

Regardless of who's to blame, gay activists are still in shock.

"Gays and lesbians are deeply hurt, heartbroken," said Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian lobbying group. "Many Americans in this country voted to discriminate against us, voted to put back in place a president who made it a hallmark of his first administration to come over and attack gay and lesbian families, to attempt to write discrimination into the United States Constitution. That hurts and that hurts a lot. I believe the day will come when voters will regret those ballot initiatives.

"America is not ready for the ballot questions that were driven by the extreme right," Jacques added. "The students were given the final exam on the first day of class."

Jacques argues that in the same way the United States had to be "educated" about the need for civil rights for blacks and women, the nation has a lot to learn about gays and lesbians.

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