In Four States, Gay Marriage is Hotter than the Presidential Race

Tuesday, Maine will try for a second time to legalize gay marriage

Gay marriage supporters rally in downtown Portland, Maine, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in a final campaign push before Tuesday's vote on a same-sex marriage referendum.

Gay marriage supporters rally Thursday in downtown Portland, Maine, in a final campaign push before Tuesday's vote on a same-sex marriage referendum.

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While Brown dismisses current polling showing the ballot initiatives in Washington and Maine winning the majority of support, Brown admits those states are a bit more challenging to win.

"I think Maine is particularly difficult," Brown says. "We are just up against a tremendous money advantage on the other side."

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Brown says his group, which has successfully defended the heterosexual definition of marriage in 34 states, says legalizing gay marriage hurts communities. Brown argues kids in states with legalized gay marriage are taught about homosexuality in schools and religious organizations are ostracized.

In the realm of public opinion, same-sex marriage has seen increased support over the last 15 years. A Pew survey released in February shows 46 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage, while 44 percent are opposed.

And while gay voters are only 4 percent of the national electorate, they are a powerful constituency shaping public opinion on the issue of marriage equality.

"They vote, they attend protests, they report being interested in politics, and they write letters to policy makers," says Patrick Egan, a political scientist at New York University who studies gay voters.

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Egan's research shows that the LBGT community is more politically active than voters at large, and they run the gamut on the political spectrum. Exit polls in 2008 reveal roughly 75 percent of gay voters cast ballots for Democratic candidates while 25 percent vote for Republicans.

Of course, marriage is not the only thing gay voters will fight for in the 2012 election. Like any constituency group, the LBGT community is multi-faceted.

"The biggest misconception is that gay voters only care about gay issues," Egan says. "While ballot initiatives like gay marriage influence some gay voters, they care about the same issues as all Americans including the economy, education and national security."

Lt. Dan Choi, a former American infantry officer in the Army who became a gay rights symbol when he chained himself to the White House fence during the debate over "don't ask, don't tell" agrees, but says marriage equality remains one of his top voting issues.

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"If you step into a voting booth you have to know that you are a full person first. And we are not there yet," Choi says. "In the mind of the gay voter, if you cannot go into that voting booth as a full person, your vote is going to be about creating equality."

President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have opposing views on gay marriage. Obama announced earlier this year, he supported gay marriage while Romney continues to view marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Egan argues Obama's announcement made a big splash in the gay community and cemented the gay vote for the Democratic Party for years to come.

"My best guess is that we are going to see this divide going forward for a few more decades," Egan says. "The Democrats keep moving the ball even further forward."

But even with gay marriage initiatives on the ballot and Obama polling better among the gay community than voters at large, Egan says gay voters are unlikely to sway the presidential election in any major way. All of the ballot initiatives are in safe Democratic states, and gay voters only make up a small fraction of the electorate.

But moving forward, Egan says the LBGT community and their straight allies could push the political needle and put more pressure on their political leaders to not only support gay marriage, but do something about it.

"Gay marriage is a big deal to younger generations. It is younger people who are being raised to believe that gay marriage is the issue of our time."

Pick says she's optimistic Mainers will be the first state to vote for gay marriage on the ballot, but if not, she says the movement will only continue to gain traction in Maine and beyond.