Inside Story: US 2012
Is same-sex marriage a US election issue?
With all of the Republican frontrunners opposing gay marriage, we ask how much of an issue this is for voters.
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2012 10:13

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has urged opponents of same-sex marriage to keep fighting as another US state has legalised it.

"What may be playing well in the Republican primary is going to be difficult for those candidates when they enter the general election."

- Michael Cole-Schwartz from the Human Rights Campaign

Seven US states and the District of Columbia have now legalised gay marriage. Washington became the latest state on Monday.
In California last week, gay rights groups celebrated after a ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
With at least three other US states actively considering legalisation, it is an issue likely to be decided by the US Supreme Court.
As Republicans do battle for their party's nomination, the top candidates oppose gay marriage.

"Every time the American people have had a chance to vote, 31 out of 31 times, they've said: 'Yeah we do want to express respect and concern for gay people but we really don't think two guys in a committed relationship are marriage and that's not what we want law to teach our children and grandchildren."

- Maggie Gallagher, the co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage

None more loudly than former senator Santorum who has warned that unless traditional marriage and the family are protected "our country will fall".

He wants one marriage law for all 50 states and an amendment which would invalidate existing gay marriages.
So how much of an issue is gay marriage for voters in this election year and to what extent do the views of Republicans like Santorum reflect US opinion?

Is it a wise strategic move to take such a strong position on gay marriage during an election? And is this a vote-winner for Republicans?

To discuss this, Inside Story: US 2012 with Lisa Fletcher is joined by: David Masci from the Pew Research Centre's Forum on Religion and Public Life; Michael Cole-Schwartz from the Human Rights Campaign, the largest group promoting gay equality in the US; and Maggie Gallagher, the co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage.

Same-sex marriage facts:

  • Latest NYT/CBS poll says 40% of Americans support gay marriage
  • Another 23% say gays should be allowed to form civil unions but not be legally married
  • Thirty-one per cent oppose any legal recognition for same-sex couples
  • Support for gay marriage in the US has nearly doubled over the past decade
  • Seven states have legalised gay marriage
  • Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich say they will ban gay marriage if elected
  • Most Republican voters say gay marriage is a minor issue for them
  • In a series of polls conducted last month, more than 50% of voters said the economy is the most important election issue for them, while issues of moral or family values ranked as most important for only about 2% of those polled
  • Barack Obama, the US president, is yet to back same-sex marriage across the US
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