WASHINGTON, May 11-- U.S. President Barack Obama's about-face infavor of same-sex marriage will galvanize both Democrats andRepublicans to get out and vote, both helping and hurting thepresident's re-election bid, analysts said. In a sudden reversal from his previous opposition to same-sexmarriage, Obama on Wednesday became the first sitting U.S.president to come out and support the idea, saying he has "alwaysbeen adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treatedfairly and equally." "It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I thinksame-sex couples should be able to get married," he said in a TVinterview with ABC's Robin Roberts, which was aired in full onThursday' s Good Morning America. The pronouncement came on the heels of Vice President Joe Biden'sremarks on Sunday's "Meet the Press" TV talk show that he was"absolutely comfortable" with the idea that same-sex couples andheterosexual couples are "entitled to the same exact rights, allthe civil rights, all the civil liberties." Critics blasted the administration's previous stance as confusing,as Obama had opposed gay marriage but supported same-sex civilunions. |
But analysts said that Obama changed course in a bid tore-assure his Democratic base. Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of thePresidency and Congress, said the president's move will mobilizeboth sides of the political divide. "The people who support gay marriage are going to be as equallymotivated to vote for Obama as the people who oppose gay marriagewill be to vote against him," he said. The issue will rile up those among each party's base for whomsocial issues are paramount.
But motivating both supporters andrivals to cast their votes could prove a double-edged sword for thepresident, and it remains to be seen whether his move willbackfire. Ryan Prucker, president of Imagelight/Personality Driven Media, amedia consulting company, said Obama's sudden attention to thetopic could leave him open to accusations of steering away frompressing economic issues, as jobs are Americans' major concernsthis election season. Mahaffee said some Republicans might even accuse the president ofstaging a side show to detract attention from what many believe hasbeen his poor handling of the recovery from the worst downturn indecades. Some analysts said Obama's change of heart could backfire in stateslike North Carolina, an important swing state crucial to Obama'scampaign that this week became the 31st state to passconstitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The issue also remains controversial within the black and Latinocommunities, although those groups are likely to support thepresident's re-election bid regardless of how they feel about gaymarriage.
Still, the move could help Obama's re-election campaign at a timewhen analysts say he will have trouble peeling his supporters offthe couch to show up at the polls in November's election, as manywho voted for him in 2008 have since expressed disappointment. And many are already applauding the president for taking a stand onan issue they feel has been swept under the carpet far too long. Meanwhile, Independents are unlikely to pay much attention to theissue, Mahaffee said, as their most crucial concerns are jobs andthe economy, although polls find that more than half ofIndependents favor gay marriage. Obama's sudden shift came just a day after a Gallup poll found that50 percent of Americans support gay marriage.
While Americans wereonce solidly against gay marriage, public opinion has moved on theissue over the past decade. Today public opinion is split down the middle, noted John Fortier,director of the democracy project at the Bipartisan Policy Center,pointing out strong opposition to gay marriage among Republicansand strong support among Democrats. But Fortier said he expects further increases in support for gaymarriage over the next 10 or 15 years because the oldest voters arethe most opposed and the youngest voters the most supportive.
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