Over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown made California the first state to ban “conversion therapy” for teens, the same kind of “pray the gay away” therapy that Rep. Michele Bachmann husband’s clinic has been accused of practicing. And the Supreme Court may soon put gay marriage in the national spotlight by hearing cases on the federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and California’s gay marriage ban. But even with all the headlines, will social issues have a big effect on the presidential election? Probably not.
For months, Gallup has asked voters what they think the most important problem facing the country is. The economy consistently tops the charts while “gay rights” has yet to register; in the columns breaking down percentages among the issues, that prompt sports a long, empty row of asterisks. Obama’s gay marriage endorsement pleased voters who support expanded rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans—and probably inspired some big campaign donations–but few of those people would have voted for Mitt Romney anyway, given that he’s tacked right on gay rights issues to allay conservative concerns.
The better question is whether ballot initiatives allowing gay marriage will finally succeed this November, now that polls are showing increased support for that cause. So far, that battle hasn’t gone well; while six states and the District of Columbia currently allow gay marriage, the issue has yet to win a referendum in any state. Both Maryland and Washington passed laws allowing same-sex marriage this year, and both may see those laws overturned via ballot initiative before they have a chance to go into effect. Meanwhile, Minnesota voters will decide whether to ban gay marriage by approving a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. And voters in Maine will answer the question: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
Some gay rights advocates have expressed hope that gay marriage will figure prominently in Wednesday’s debate. The domestic policy face-off would be the place for that question, but moderator Jim Lehrer will be concentrating on those issues that are most important to voters, such as fiscal policy and unemployment. Besides, we know already know the positions of the candidates. But make no mistake: while gay marriage won’t make-or-break the candidates, it will be on the ballot with them in November.