“So many people were rather lukewarm toward governor Romney and were really looking for some more tangible reasons to support him,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, who led the ballot drive that banned gay marriage in Ohio in 2004. “Then lo and behold, it just fell out of the sky when Obama came out and endorsed same-sex marriage. . . . We are going to make this our key issue: the attack on marriage.”
The National Organization for Marriage, a leading anti-gay-marriage group, lashed out at Obama after his announcement and promised to campaign against him “ceaselessly” in swing states.
Same-sex marriage has long been a galvanizing political force for core constituencies in both parties, particularly conservative Catholics and evangelical Republicans. But the president’s public embrace of the idea alters the landscape in ways that promise to complicate the political calculus for both sides.
While more than 30 states now ban same-sex marriage and voters in North Carolina on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment forbidding it, anti-gay-marriage activists acknowledge that public opinion on the issue has shifted dramatically since 2004, when ballot measures in Ohio and 10 other states helped drive social conservatives to the polls in support of George W. Bush.
Romney and other establishment Republicans have treaded softly on the issue so far, but many evangelicals think that a forceful anti-gay-marriage campaign could pay huge dividends for Republicans in the fall.
Some on the religious right also remain deeply uncertain about Romney’s convictions on cultural issues and are unhappy with his statements in recent days that he supports allowing gay couples to adopt children and that he does not view same-sex marriage as a religious issue. Many activists say they will continue to push Romney on the issue.
“Romney says he is for traditional marriage and then immediately says he is fine with homosexuals adopting children,” said David Lane, who organizes conservative pastors and congregations nationwide and helped lead anti-gay-marriage efforts in Iowa, California and other states. “Our base does not react well to that. They are not going to turn out [for a candidate] who tries to triangulate” on topics such as marriage and other traditional values.
The sentiments underscore the continued difficulties that Romney faces in attempting to navigate thorny cultural issues while attempting to woo independent voters with an economic message. Romney is slated to appear Saturday at Liberty University, an evangelical bastion in Lynchburg, Va., where he will deliver a commencement address. Romney says he is opposed to same-sex marriage and civil unions and favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages nationwide. But the former Massachusetts governor has also said that the “tender and sensitive” issue will not be a central part of his campaign.