GAY MARRIAGE IN SOUTH DAKOTAHow big a problem is the gay marriage issue for the Democrats? Reading between the lines on the Mary Cheney flap suggests something pretty big is happening out there in Demland.
Take the basic fact: Kerry appears to be slipping behind Bush once again. John Zogby, whose poll gives Bush a 4-point lead, says Kerry's problem is that he doesn't command the same enthusiasm among Democrats that Bush does among Republicans: 89 percent of Republicans support Bush, compared to 79 percent of Democrats who support Kerry.
Even minor defections from the base can spell doom in a tight election. (In the latest New York Times poll, 17 percent of black Americans say they plan to vote for Bush, about double the 2000 vote.) And gay marriage is the kind of issue that, as former Democratic pollster Pat Caddell pointed out on the Oct. 15 "Hannity & Colmes," splits the Democratic base up the middle: "Among (the) most ardent opponents of gay marriage are African-Americans, Hispanics, and voters over 65, the heart of the Democratic Party. That's who Kerry was trying to speak to," says Caddell. He means in that last debate, when John Kerry threw in the fact -- have you heard? -- that Mary Cheney is gay.
The Kerry campaign thinks the worst about the American people. They must imagine that voters who oppose gay marriage are all homophobes who will recoil in horror at the idea of voting for a man whose running mate's daughter is gay. Dick Cheney's daughter is gay. That fact is supposed to somehow counterbalance Kerry's anti-anti-gay marriage voting record (Kerry was one of only a handful of senators to vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, for example, which he denounced as unnecessary gay bashing) against President Bush's strong defense of our marriage traditions. The Kerry campaign imagines that black Americans aren't really angry that the Democratic Party is misdirecting the moral capital of the civil rights movement away from poor black kids to the sexual politics of adults -- they are just illiterate homophobes who can be brought back to the fold by learning that Mary Cheney is (shudder) a lesbian.
Pat Caddell understands otherwise. "You've got this huge issue coming, it's like a level five hurricane coming, and nobody's even talking about it in this country. And what it does to the Democratic base is serious. And what it does to blacks is it cross-pressures them into not voting."
Twelve states put marriage amendments on the ballots this fall. In Louisiana, the vote was scheduled to coincide with a Democratic primary in September. Almost 80 percent of voters approved the state marriage amendment "banning gay marriage."
So Kerry is nervous, and so, apparently, is Democratic minority leader Sen. Tom Daschle, who in a razor-tight race in South Dakota has just started (according to one local observer) running ads suggesting he is against gay marriage, as well as anti-abortion. (Seventy-three percent of South Dakotans in a recent poll strongly disapproved of same-sex marriage.) Daschle received a 100 percent approval rating from the lead gay rights group advocating same-sex marriage, the Human Rights Campaign, and led the charge to stop a federal marriage amendment.
In response, a new 527, "You're Fired Inc.," has started to run ads attacking Daschle on this issue. (To view the ads, go to www.heartlandvalues.com.) Like most of the political advertising I have seen on this issue, they aren't anti-gay at all. They are pro-democracy and pro-marriage:
"Tom Daschle refuses to protect traditional marriage. He would let liberal activist judges redefine it. Most South Dakotans believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, and every child should have the chance to have a father and a mother. We're not interested in depriving anyone of any rights, but let's not allow liberal judges from Massachusetts to redefine marriage for us."
How will that play in South Dakota and the rest of the nation? Stay tuned this November.
(Readers may reach Maggie Gallagher at MaggieBox2004@yahoo.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2004 MAGGIE GALLAGHER