Immediately after President Obama announced his support this week for same-sex marriage, attention turned to politics. The outcome of this year’s election will be determined by a handful of states — one of them is Iowa, where the politics of same-sex marriage are complicated.
It is legal here, but three of the state Supreme Court justices behind that 2009 decision were removed from office by voters a year later.
Still, the most recent polling shows that a solid majority of Iowans oppose changing the state constitution to ban gay marriage. Pollster Ann Selzer says despite the heated battles over the issue, the economy and jobs are Iowa voters care about most.
Take Mary Wells and her husband Norman of Johnston, Iowa. She’s 75. He’s 76. They consider themselves independents.
She voted for Obama, he didn’t. They won’t say how they’ll vote this year, but they say Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage won’t have an impact on that decision.
“I think there’s more important things than talking about that,” Norman Wells says.
He says he has no opinion on the matter either way.
Mike Hoover, 39, is a county employee in Altoona. He’s an independent voter who leans Republican. He’s still undecided about this year, but he’s not pleased with this week’s news.
“Same-sex marriage … I just think that it’s wrong,” he says. “I guess … the Bible says marriage is supposed to be a man and a woman.”
Hoover said this could make him more likely to vote for Mitt Romney.
Nationally, polls show that Americans, over the years, have become more accepting of same-sex marriage. That describes Des Moines resident Jim Polking, a retired salesman and Obama supporter.
“If you’d have asked me that question 10 years ago, I’d said I don’t believe in that at all. But today I’ve changed my thoughts on it, and I think, why not?” he says. “I don’t know if I would get up and applaud for it … but I’m not going to object to it.”
Activists disagree over whether the issue will have any real impact on the presidential contest in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats heads a conservative Christian organization called The Family Leader. He’s a major player in Iowa politics.
“I believe this is a bad political risk for Obama. I think it’s gonna hurt him in Iowa,” Vander Plaats says. “I actually think this could be the issue that could cost him the presidency.”
On the other side is Des Moines attorney Sharon Malheiro, a founder of the group One Iowa, an organization working to keep gay marriage legal in Iowa.
“I don’t think that this is going to cost Obama the election, this one issue. He’s standing in favor of civil rights. There are plenty of people who will see that that’s the right thing to do,” she says. “But there’s more to the president than my being able to get married. And there’s more to the president than this statement.”
Vander Plaats, however, promises to use the issue to motivate Christian conservative voters. But he says Romney needs to make it an issue as well.
“Mitt Romney is going to determine how this plays for Mitt Romney. But now that Obama’s made it an issue, is Romney going to show clear leadership here?” he says. “Or is he going to start waffling? … If he does that, the base will get demoralized.”
Four years ago, candidate Obama carried Iowa easily. This year, it’s expected to be much closer. That means getting out the base is especially critical for both campaigns. Same-sex marriage could play a role in that, even if most voters rank it well down their list of priorities.