Same-sex marriage does not appear to be the galvanizing force it once was, particularly among younger voters. A poll last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 44 percent of young white evangelicals favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, compared with 12 percent of evangelical seniors and 19 percent of evangelicals overall.
Some conservatives hope the issue drives a wedge between black voters, who largely oppose same-sex marriage, and the president. The Rev. John Coats II, who leads an African American church in Columbus, Ohio, said his Facebook page erupted on Wednesday with critical comments about the president from people who had previously defended him. He is already preparing to preach on Sunday posing the question: Why doesn’t the black community produce politicians who reflect the community’s values?
“I’m not saying they will be pushed to the point to vote for Romney,” Coats said of black voters. “But I believe it will increase voter apathy, and I have to say I’m surprised, and somewhat delightfully, that people are taking a closer look at this president who would never do that before.”
In Ohio, Burress said his group plans to re-create many of the tactics used in 2004 to spur social conservatives to the polls, including organizing rallies and meetings and placing tens of thousands of fliers in church bulletins across the state. The group will also renew its alliance with Amish voters there, who turned out in record numbers for the 2004 ballot measure, Burress said.
Aggressive use of Facebook, text messaging and other social media technologies will help amplify the message, he and others said.
“This could really be a difference-maker,” said J.C. Church, pastor of the 600-member Victory in Truth Ministries congregation in Bucyrus, Ohio, north of Columbus. “People will get fired up on this issue. North Carolina is an indication — this will awaken the conservative evangelicals to become aware, and the result will be action.”
But Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said changing demographics and the struggling economy mean that same-sex marriage may not prove as central as it was eight years ago in the state. While he supports Romney’s position on the issue, he said the GOP presidential candidate would do best to focus on jobs and other economic issues.
“In Ohio, there are people on both sides of the issue who have largely made up their minds,” Bennett said. “Obviously it’s going to unite the social conservatives who maybe had some doubts about Romney, but there are other issues to unite people. This is more of a sidebar issue now.”
Staff writers Tom Hamburger in Washington and Krissah Thompson in Lynchburg, Va., contributed to this report.