The organization dedicated to opposing same-sex marriage in Washington State conceded yesterday that Referendum 74, which would permit gay couples to marry, was likely to pass.
This would mark the fourth victory for gay rights group in this election cycle, an astonishing feat given that prior to 2012, same-sex marriage was defeated in every state where it was brought to a vote. Add these victories to the re-election of the first president to endorse marriage equality, and the re-election of an Iowa judge who helped strike down that state’s gay marriage ban despite a serious effort to oust him, and you have what amounts to a watershed year in the gay rights movement.
While same sex marriage ranks low on the list of issues deemed important by voters, it’s not without broader political significance. In 2004, the passage of gay marriage bans in 11 states, including must-win Ohio, might have provided a crucial turnout boost among evangelical voters that put President George W Bush over the top.
What accounts for such a sea change just eight years later? To some extent, the same demographic changes that catapulted President Obama to a second term in the White House also led to victories for marriage equality. Exit polling by ABC News revealed that while the broader public is divided on the issue, Latino voters support gay marriage by a 59-32 percent margin. African-Americans were more tepid in their support but nonetheless favored letting their states permit same-sex marriage by 52-40%. And young voters supported gay marriage by large margins. Exit polling in Washington State showed that young voters supported Referendum 74 by 65-35%. Not coincidentally, young Washington voters also plumped for Barack Obama 66-32%.
This leaves the Republican party in a bind. It’s now unlikely that they can use gay marriage as a wedge issue to turn out their socially conservative base without appearing out of touch to young voters. But with nearly 74% of Romney voters opposed to same sex marriage, Republicans may not be able to soften their stance either.