U.S. Presidential Election to be defined by gay marriage?
President Bush is calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and my thoughts on the subject have been pretty accurately described on other blogs.
But why are the Republicans pushing this issue now?
The left–of–centre New York Times (think an American version of The Guardian) reckons it's the first battle in a long war in the run–up to this year's congressional midterm elections and eventually the 2008 Presidential elections. It's entirely possible that over these two years both the White House and the Senate could switch from Republican to Democrat control, largely due to growing dissatisfaction over Bush's handling of Iraq and the economy.
One thing which stands out in the NY Times article is the suggestion that pushing for a constitutional amendment would force the issue onto state referendums this year, bringing conservative voters out for the gay marriage issue (and at the same time, getting them to vote in crucial national and state elections). For a constitutional amendment to pass, it has to have two–thirds agreement in both houses of Congress and the support (often by referendum) in three–quarters of the states.
The gay marriage amendment will never get that far, and even the most conservative church groups know it. So essentially, the theory that the Republicans are trying to use a gay marriage referendum to get their core vote out is, at best, speculative.
But having the issue at the heart of the national debate will have other consequences, some of them intended. For one thing it will make this year's elections far more divisive. Conservatives love the issue (the right–of–centre Washington Times has it as one of its top stories, while the NY Times has it buried away).
But what it will certainly do is bring out the Republicans in large numbers, and could well be a boon for Bush as his Presidency looks increasingly sterile. He's lost much of his support from the right of his own party because 1) he didn't keep his promises in 2004 to ban gay marriage and 2) because they're moving on to nurturing the next guy.
And while a lame duck, he's still savvy enough to know that putting this issue at the forefront of American politics (above rising petrol prices and Iraq) will give him – and more importantly his potential Republican successor – a fighting chance this year and in 2008, even if a comprehensive ban on gay marriage across all states is certainly, thankfully, going to be an enigma.