Timing is everything in politics. Just as NPR’s Neal Conan and Ken Rudin ended their discussion of the implications of gay marriage on the presidential election, President Obama ended his philosophical evolving and political calculating on the issue of gay marriage and announced he was a supporter. Earlier is probably better for his campaign, even though the original plan was to get closer to the August national convention.
For the Democratic Party, it was not a radical move. In the last decade, gay marriage, as the last and most controversial item on the gay rights agenda, has become a near litmus test issue for Democrats from major blue states or with national aspirations.
Civil unions had been a way station for most centrist Democratic leaders, including the President. But with public opinion shifting to greater acceptance of gay rights, including an even divide on gay marriage, the party was about to have a needless platform demonstration for gay marriage at its national convention in August. It will now be a love fest.
Obama’s campaign and national Democrats hesitated for a long time on the issue because of its downside risk. Although polls show half the country supports it, large concentrations of support are in big blue states.
In the twelve states identified by Gallup as toss-ups (9 of which are in the New York Times list), eight have passed constitutional bans on gay marriage, including North Carolina, site of the Democratic Convention and a state Obama won by less than one percentage point in 2008.
Joining presidential battleground states are non-toss-up states with close U.S. Senate races where vulnerable Democratic incumbents or challengers may not be benefited by the President’s high-profile advocacy, such as Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Missouri and Virginia.