Anti-Gay Groups In New Hampshire, Iowa Plan Litmus Test For 2012 Candidates

On Friday, the New York Times ran a story suggesting that, given the growing societal support for extending marriage to gays and lesbians, that wedge issue may be losing its edge among likely voters in 2012. But a quick look at the issues facing the early election states of New Hampshire and Iowa reveals that gay rights could quickly move to the forefront of the primary season, forcing the potential Republican presidential candidates to harden their support for anti-gay initiatives:

In New Hampshire, where the GOP now holds veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, legislative leaders recently decided to postpone action until next January on a high-profile bill to repeal same-sex marriage rights. The debate, which clogged hearing rooms and dominated Granite State headlines earlier in the month, is now scheduled to re-emerge at roughly the same time as the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Cornerstone will ask each Republican presidential candidate to sign a pledge agreeing marriage should be between one man and one woman.

“Why not try to leverage the influence of the candidates to get them to declare their support for traditional marriage?” Smith said. “If you have a candidate saying they’re not willing to oppose same-sex marriage, I think they’ll have a problem. … We have a wide membership list. We’ll certainly let them know.”

Bob Vander Plaats, who leads Iowa’s Family Leader, largely agrees marriage is a “hot topic.”

“I think there is real momentum,” he said of the push to fight gay marriage. His group, the Iowa equivalent of Cornerstone, is already hosting 2012 candidates for a speaker series, and marriage is suddenly back on the radar.

“I support the notion that we, as a society, should continue to elevate traditional marriage, that it should remain as between a man and a woman, and that all other domestic relationships are not the same as traditional marriage,” Republican Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, said when addressing the audience at the Family Leader series this month.

Public support for anti-gay initiatives in Iowa and New Hampshire seems to be waning, however. A new poll suggests that a majority of Iowans support same-sex marriage or don’t care one way or the other. According to the Des Moines Register, “when asked whether they favored or opposed the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision that allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry in that state, 30 percent said they just don’t care much one way or the other, while 37 percent opposed or strongly opposed the court ruling and 32 percent favored it or strongly favored it.” Similarly, in New Hampshire, a recent University of New Hampshire poll found 62% of New Hampshire voters are opposed to repealing the marriage law.

Still, it’s hard to see how any of this results in a general election win for the GOP. Any great focus on gay issues among the primary electorate would likely distract from the economic message and elevate the candidacies of fringe candidates (like Bachmann or Santorum) who are unlikely to prevail in 2012.