Yesterday, the largest organization involved in 2008’s failed campaign to defeat Proposition 8 in California announced that it would be waiting until 2012 to make another attempt at legalizing gay marriage. While some other groups, such as Courage Campaign, have indicated that they will continue to push for a ballot measure in 2010, this decision by Equality California, which was based at least in part on feedback from many of the largest donors/contributors to the No on 8 campaign, could determine what actually happens, and for the purposes of this post, I assume that it does. Because I live in California, I personally am grateful for the possibility of not seeing this fight again next year. However, there are implications of this delay for everyone with a stake in this issue, politicians included.
In particular, how does this delay affect the 2012 Presidential race? While it may be too early to know who will ultimately be involved, one individual–Mitt Romney–will almost certainly be on the scene. For Romney, it is reasonable that a highly public same-sex marriage debate would have some meaningful impact–either positive or negative–on his electability. During his failed attempt in 2007-2008, Romney’s membership in the LDS Church caused nearly constant commotion in media outlets, political debates, and other public forums.
However, it is important to note that almost all of this focus on his personal beliefs was exactly that–a focus on Romney’s personal beliefs. In other words, the focus was more about the fact that he believed in Mormonism, and less about the institution behind that set of beliefs, as well as the public activities of that institution. Indeed, by the time the LDS Church officially and publicly became involved in marshaling efforts to pass Proposition 8 in California, Romney had thrown in the towel.
Every candidate in 2012 will likely face questions about same sex marriage and gay rights in general; however, these questions could, in my opinion, carry a different tone and focus for Romney, who will almost certainly be asked about his religion’s role in the passage of Proposition 8. In the event that the LDS Church is anxiously engaged in another high profile campaign, the combination of such an effort with Romney’s presence as a Presidential candidate could have lasting implications on both outcomes.
I am no fan of Mitt Romney, but this delay raises a few questions that are interesting nevertheless. Does a highly visible and highly controversial presence from the LDS Church in same sex marriage campaign bode well for Romney in 2012? Likewise, does Romney’s presence as a legitimate Presidential candidate spell disaster or success for a same sex marriage campaign? Does Romney’s own stance on the issue even matter to independent swing voters, as long as his religion is involved? How does this affect Romney’s electability in the primaries relative to the potential general election?
In particular, how will Romney be able to convince voters that he is an independently thinking political candidate in light of the LDS Church’s now–extremely visible and effective –demonstrated (via Prop 8) influence among its members? I.e., If the LDS Church is actively engaged in a political issue, is it possible for Romney to appear unswayed without alienating key constituencies?