No Bellwether for Gay Rights in Virginia

Washington Post
January 2, 2005

When the Virginia General Assembly convenes this month, organizations such as the Family Foundation will be on hand to instruct legislators on the importance of being on the right side of some “moral values” issues — particularly the need to oppose legal recognition of or protection for gay and lesbian couples and their families.

But legislators and policymakers should not be too quick to jump on the moral-values bandwagon.

As the architect of George W. Bush’s victory, Karl Rove saw the potential of using referendums on anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendments in 11 key states, including Ohio, to drive turnout of the president’s base. Trumpeting Bush’s support for the federal marriage amendment was part of this strategy. It is hardly surprising, then, that a significant number of the people who voted would say in exit polls that “moral values” were a factor in their choice.

But how do the election results apply to decisions about issues in this Virginia General Assembly session and statewide elections later this year? Consider:

– Religious or moral-issues voters did not win the election for Bush.

While it is true that churchgoers turned out in larger numbers in 2004 than in 2000 to vote for Bush, the turnout of non-regular churchgoers who voted for Bush was even larger. Bush’s margin of victory was attributable to his increased support among women and Hispanics. A million gay and lesbian voters also stuck with Bush, despite his support for the marriage amendment and his opposition to same-sex marriage.

– Anti-gay-marriage initiatives did not deliver the election to Bush.

While the various initiatives against gay marriage no doubt ensured some additional turnout for Bush, they were not a decisive factor in his win. In Ohio, for example, Bush received 200,000 more votes than the anti-gay-marriage initiative, which passed with 57 percent of the vote. Turnout in states with anti-gay-marriage initiatives was only slightly higher than in states without such initiatives. Most states with the initiatives also were red states to begin with.

– The election results do not support the conclusion that most Americans, including Virginians, oppose legal recognition or protection for gay and lesbian couples and their families.

Americans are not ready for same-sex marriage, and the litigation strategy that resulted in court decisions overturning state laws limiting marriage no doubt backfired. Nevertheless, 60 percent of voters expressed support for either gay marriage (25 percent) or civil unions (35 percent). Half of all Republican voters also expressed such support, with 20 percent opting for marriage and 30 percent for civil unions. Bush voiced repeated support for gay and lesbian equality during the campaign.

Virginians did not have the opportunity to vote on an initiative against gay marriage in the 2004 election, but it seems unlikely that they would differ significantly from voters nationwide, most of whom felt that committed relationships between gay or lesbian partners deserve legal protections, whatever the label.

In short, the perception of some, including the Family Foundation of Virginia, that the 2004 election represented a setback for gay and lesbian rights is wrong.

Accordingly, Virginia legislators and political leaders should not accept arguments by evangelical advocates that any support for equality for gays and lesbians will lead to their inevitable defeat in the 2005 elections.

David Lampo
Vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia and chair of the Political
Committee for Equality Virginia.

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