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Same-sex ‘marriage’: Is there a Republican-Democratic split?

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the 12th story in a series examining the national debate over same-sex “marriage.” The series appears in Baptist Press each Friday.

Updated April 8, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Last fall the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature passed a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage,” only to see it vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

A few months later the Republican-controlled Indiana Senate passed a state marriage amendment, but watched the Democratic speaker of the house declare it dead on arrival.

Nationwide, the battle over same-sex “marriage” has seen a split along party lines — Republicans supporting, but Democrats opposing legislation banning same-sex “marriage.” Consider:

— President Bush supports a federal marriage amendment, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry opposes it.

— DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe has said an amendment would introduce “discrimination” into the Constitution. Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has said his party “must pursue whatever policy is necessary” to protect the definition of marriage.

— The large majority of amendment co-sponsors in Congress are Republicans. Of the 100-plus House co-sponsors, more than 90 percent are Republicans.

— Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., supports an amendment. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., opposes it.

— The Democratic state parties of Massachusetts and New York have gone on record as officially supporting same-sex “marriage.”

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, especially in the South and in regions with heavy Catholic populations, where some Democrats may favor an amendment. In addition, some Republicans are wary of tampering with the Constitution, even on the issue of marriage, and a handful favor same-sex “marriage.” But for the most part, the division holds.

“I think it’s going to be a substantial division between the parties [during this year’s election], but it’s a complicated division,” Stanley Kurtz, a contributing editor at National Review and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, told Baptist Press in February. “… Broadly speaking, the parties will tend toward one direction or another.”

The division could be a deathblow to a marriage amendment, since it needs the support of both parties nationwide. It requires the votes of two-thirds of both the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states. For amendment supporters, getting Democrats onboard is a necessity.

“I think the prospects for a two-thirds vote in both houses are not nearly as certain as I would have said they were two or three or four years ago,” Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics, told BP. “You’ve got to get a third of the Democrats to vote for it.”

Could America be headed toward another cultural split between the parties, similar to what exists on the issue of abortion? Today the Republican platform is pro-life, the Democratic platform pro-choice. That division starts at the top — since 1980 every presidential campaign has seen a pro-life Republican running against a pro-choice Democrat — and extends down to local elections. There are, of course, many exceptions, but an abortion split is the general rule.

Barone, for one, believes same-sex “marriage” is an issue that both parties would like to avoid.

“The Democrats think that the pro-gay marriage position or even pro-civil unions is probably unpopular with most Americans and very unpopular with some,” he said in February. “The Republicans feel that if they seem to be making it an issue, they will be portrayed … as bigoted, insensitive, cruel and so forth.”

Kurtz, though, sees it otherwise. He said he can see a situation in the 2006 congressional campaign in which “the liberal Democratic base pretty much makes it clear that if you want to be a Democrat, you need to be in favor of gay marriage.”

“But it is complicated because for a congressional election, you’re never going to get unanimity,” he said. “Everybody is going to go based on their district. [Regarding] a presidential election, I can imagine the Democratic platform four years from now formally endorsing gay marriage.”

Ironically, the spotlight during this year’s election could be on the two candidates for president, even though the president doesn’t play a direct role in an amendment’s passage.

Events on both coasts could force the issue.

Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts — the site of the Democratic National Convention — likely will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May. In San Francisco and the Portland, Ore., area, officials have issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defying state law in both instances.

Kurtz sees a situation in which same-sex “marriage” could become the defining issue of the presidential campaign.

“It’s going to be probably as big as the war in Iraq,” he said. “And there’s even a scenario in which you could imagine it becoming the most important issue. The reason for that is because it’s going to be impossible to confine the effects of this change to Massachusetts. Because once same-sex couples are married in Massachusetts, should they travel to other states and move there — and they will do that — they will launch a series of lawsuits and that will mean media coverage.”

If that happens, then Kerry’s vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act could become an issue. The law is intended to protect states from being forced to recognize another state’s same-sex “marriage.” It passed the Senate 85-14 and was signed by President Clinton. Same-sex “marriage” supporters want to see it struck down in federal court once Massachusetts begins issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

“I have not heard [Kerry] address substantively why the Defense of Marriage Act is a bad idea,” Barone said.

But Kerry’s opposition to a marriage amendment to the Constitution also could become an issue, Kurtz said. Kerry says he supports an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution that would ban same-sex “marriage” while legalizing Vermont-type civil unions. That is the only type of state marriage amendment he said he could support.

“Certainly neither candidate is going to be endorsing gay marriage,” Kurtz said. “But having said that, there really is a very significant difference — particularly because if you’re not willing to endorse an amendment, I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to get national gay marriage. So even though Sen. Kerry may say he does not favor gay marriage, I think without a national amendment we’re going to get it.”
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  • Michael Foust