EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of stories examining issues involving this year’s election.
WASHINGTON (BP)–The economy may be dominating the election season and Congress may be in the spotlight, but activists on both sides of the “gay marriage” debate are closely watching several key gubernatorial and state legislative races that could determine the future of marriage in the United States.
Statewide races in at least five states — Minnesota, Maine, Rhode Island, Maryland and New York — could decide whether marriage is redefined nationally to include homosexual couples. At the same time, two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, could see “gay marriage” laws repealed outright if everything falls the way of conservatives in November. None of the states have constitutional marriage amendments.
Conservative groups are watching state races with a close eye this year, particularly after watching legislatures in three states pass laws legalizing “gay marriage” in 2009. The races could go a long way toward giving federal courts an indication of the nation’s mood on the issue, said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which backs candidates who support traditional marriage.
“The courts read election returns,” Brown told Baptist Press. “The Proposition 8 case is moving its way through the courts, and it’s up to the people of this country to make absolutely clear, especially to the U.S. Supreme Court, that the people of this country aren’t going to stand for unelected judges or out-of-control legislatures forcing same-sex marriage on this country.”
Many of the homosexual groups’ state victories in recent years were due to the advocacy and support of multi-millionaire Tim Gill, a homosexual man who made his money from his successful Quark software company. He retired in 2000 and announced he would use his money for homosexual advocacy. Much of that money has gone to support state-level candidates.
“I don’t know that there’s been a more important election [on the issue], because up until this point, Tim Gill and a number of extremely wealthy gay multi-millionaires have been putting millions of dollars into state elections, supporting candidates who want to redefine marriage, but those candidates never talked about the issue publicly,” Brown said. “They have been dealing with what was essentially a stealth campaign.
“This election, for the first time we have been able to make marriage an issue and win. No longer will Tim Gill and the rest have a free pass. Winning in the key places we’re involved … is absolutely essential.”
Five states recognize “gay marriage”: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The National Organization for Marriage got involved in races in California and New Hampshire earlier this year and helped prevent Republicans who support “gay marriage” from winning the GOP nominations for U.S. Senate. Brown’s organization remains heavily involved in statewide races in Minnesota, Iowa and New Hampshire. Following is a quick summary of the significance of those, and other, races:
— Minnesota governor (open seat). Republican Tom Emmer opposes “gay marriage” — which is illegal in the state — while Democrat Mark Dayton and Independence Party nominee Tom Horner support it. Dayton, a former U.S. senator, even has a spot on his webpage dedicated to “LGBT Equality” (an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). The race is seen as a toss-up between Emmer and Dayton. Democrats control both chambers, and there has been a movement to push such a bill. The current governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, opposes marriage redefinition but chose not to seek re-election. Meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed in May to legalize “gay marriage,” and conservatives are pressuring the legislature to put a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot.
— New Hampshire governor (currently Democratic). Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who signed a bill in 2009 to legalize “gay marriage,” is running for re-election against Republican nominee John Stephen, who said he would sign a bill to repeal the law if it reaches his desk. Democrats control both chambers, and Republicans are hoping to recapture both of them.
— Iowa governor (Democratic) and legislature (Democratic). After the Iowa Supreme Court legalized “gay marriage” in 2009, the Democratic-controlled state legislature blocked all efforts to put a constitutional marriage amendment — which would reverse the law — on the ballot. Conservative groups are hoping to elect enough supporters of such an amendment to get it through the legislature. Although the governor technically plays no role in passing constitutional amendments, the current governor, Democrat Chet Culver, supported the court’s ruling and publicly opposed amendment efforts. Republican nominee Terry Branstad, who leads Culver in the polls, opposes “gay marriage.” Branstad was not a favorite of social conservatives during the GOP primary, but Brown believes he’ll be an ally. “Terry Branstad has said that he supports marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and I believe he’s going to support the right of the people to stand up and vote on marriage,” Brown said.
— Maine governor (open). Republican Paul LePage, who has led in most polls, opposes “gay marriage,” while Democrat Libby Mitchell and Independent Eliot Cutler support it. Although the state’s citizens last year voted to overturn a law that had legalized “gay marriage,” the issue likely will come up again in the future because the state does not have a constitutional marriage amendment. Democrats control both chambers.
— New York governor (Democratic), state Senate (Democratic). After the Democratic-controlled Senate defeated a “gay marriage” bill last year with a vote of 38-24, homosexual groups pledged to defeat the senators — even the Democrats — who opposed it. But their effort mostly failed in three September Democratic primaries when they won only one seat and saw state Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., an outspoken critic of “gay marriage,” win his primary. The National Organization for Marriage backed the conservative Democrats. “We are not a partisan organization,” Brown said. “We’ll support candidates who support marriage.” In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of “gay marriage,” is the favorite to defeat Republican Carl Paladino, an opponent of marriage redefinition.
— Rhode Island governor (Republican). Democrat Frank Caprio and Independent Lincoln Chafee, who both support “gay marriage,” are running 1-2 in most polls over Republican John Robitaille, who opposes “gay marriage.” Rhode Island is the only New England state where marriage redefinition has not been a significant threat in either the legislature or the courts. But that could change next year when Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, who opposes “gay marriage” and is term-limited, leaves office. Democrats control both chambers.
— Maryland governor (Democratic). Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is running for re-election, said in September he would sign a “gay marriage” bill if it reaches his desk. Republican nominee Bob Erhlich opposes “gay marriage.” Democrats control both chambers.
In addition to the races mentioned above, the gubernatorial races in Hawaii and Illinois could determine whether same-sex civil unions, which grant all the legal benefits of marriage except the name, are legalized. In Hawaii, Democratic nominee Neil Abercrombie supports civil unions while Republican nominee Duke Aiona opposes them. In Illinois, Democratic nominee Pat Quinn backs civil unions, while Republican Bill Brady opposes them. There likely will be a movement in both states next year to pass such a bill.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Learn more about the National Organization for Marriage at www.NationForMarriage.org.