Gay Marriage Adds Up For Obama


On Sunday morning in downtown Manhattan, couples and families crammed sidewalks ordering coffee and cakes and Bloody Marys as pink ribbons and garish "Happy Mothers’ Day" balloons shifted around in the light spring breeze. "All day half price cocktails for mums… even if you have two of them," read one Soho chalkboard. 

But it wasn’t just Mothers’ Day or the onset of Summer that made Sunday special. Three days after Barrack Obama historically declared his support for gay marriage and a year after the state recognised same-sex unions, New York City was preparing for the President’s arrival at, among other things, a LGBTI fundraiser hosted by recently out gay pop star Ricky Martin. 

"I feel like it’s an important time for civil liberties," MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow said.

In 1996, then president Bill Clinton faced a similar political decision over gay rights. Worried about losing key swing seats, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law, restricting the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. 

But things are different now. Obama refused to enforce DOMA, his administration has quietly introduced legislation increasing same-sex access to benefits, education and healthcare. And Clinton has just this week been campaigning in North Carolina openly supporting gay marriage. 

Although the US has a long way to go, it seems the popular attitude towards gay rights in the US is shifting. Polls indicate a growing support for — or at least acceptance of — gay marriage and, unlike Clinton, Obama has little to lose personally, politically or financially by supporting gay marriage.

Americans are unlikely to vote on gay marriage as a single issue. It’s a statistical fact. There is a risk Obama might lose some fringe support from conservative religious groups, but that loss probably won’t make much of a difference in his overall presidential campaign. There is a possibility that in states like Ohio, Florida and Colorado where a few thousand votes will really count, there could be cause for concern, but in an overall sense the polls look good.

Twenty five per cent of voters are more likely to vote for a supporter of gay marriage, while only 20 per cent are likely to vote against a candidate. Fifty four per cent of Americans said a candidate’s same-sex marriage views made no difference to their vote. 

But what about the religious-conservative black vote? Isn’t Obama risking the crucial 95 per cent of black support he got last election?

The most Obama could lose by supporting same sex marriage is about 5 per cent of the African-American population who identify themselves as religious-conservative. Doing the maths, Black Americans make up just 13 per cent of the electorate, which in real terms constitutes .65 of a percentage point from his share of the popular vote. In swing states like Virginia and North Carolina the margin could creep closer to 1 point, but not much more. 

Both sides of politics are vying for the Latino vote this election cycle, so you would presume Obama has taken their views into consideration in his decision. Traditionally conservative, this growing base now makes up about 9 per cent of the electorate.

According to polls though, the most conservative Latinos either aren’t registered to vote or do not have US citizenship. Of those Latinos who took to the polls last election just over two thirds support same sex marriage. And strangely enough, according to exit polls, it’s difficult to distinguish that from the 67 per cent of Latinos who voted Democrats in 2008. 

If the Obama-supporting, anti-gay-marriage Latinos switch their vote and outnumber the anti-Obama, pro-gay-marriage Latino voters who are drawn to him because of this announcement, then the Democrats might be in trouble, but that’s unlikely. 

When New York State introduced the Marriage Equality Act in July last year, the public asked "Why now?" and "What’s different this time around?" 

The answer is the money. A powerful consortium of five groups joined forces in late 2010 and poured $1.9 million into lobbying around just that one piece of legislation. Pressure was applied to the governor and other politicians from Wall Street and beyond.

Likewise Obama’s announcement instantly moved beyond the symbolic when his campaign fundraising dollar signs started flashing on Wednesday. It’s rumored, and FEC data isn’t out yet, but within an hour of the ABC interview, Obama’s campaign received an unsolicited $1 million surge in donations.

Already one out of six of Obama’s fundraisers are gay males, according to the Washington Post. And his endorsement will likely reignite the young, passionate support base he relied on in the last election, many who went online and simply donated $25. If New York is any indication of the financial clout behind the LGBTI marriage movement, Obama can look forward to some flush times ahead. 

So as he takes to the stage with Ricky Martin — gay and Latino — on Monday afternoon, in one of the nine states that support same-sex marriage, Obama will most likely receive a standing ovation from the audience who have all paid at between $5,000 and $200,000 a head for the privilege.

This phase of Obama’s evolution will be complete, he will personally relish the moment and his campaign will have received the financial and political boost it needed. Meanwhile, on the sunny streets of New York City his supporters, because of his bold move, can proudly wander around sporting his new line of LGBTI Obama fashion wear.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.