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Gay Marriage Issue Fizzles for Republicans

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Well, so much for that.

The proposed gay marriage ban, promoted by Sen. Wayne Allard, died a quick death in the U.S. Senate yesterday. The speedy demise of the measure may have provided an interesting look at how gay rights issues could fare in Colorado in the fall, when several measures will be on the ballot to both promote and deny gay rights (including a gay marriage ban).

The federal gay marriage ban was soundly defeated yesterday by a vote of 49-48, far short of the 67 votes that it would eventually have needed for passage. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Allard was defending the efforts yesterday in spite of the quick defeat after just a couple of days of debate:

“We continued to grow support for defending marriage as between a man and a woman,” Allard said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

He shrugged off claims that it was little more than an election-season diversion. “It’s not a waste of time. This is an important issue,” Allard said.

There’s absolutely no question whatsoever that this was an election-year maneuver designed to motivate the Republican base, because there wasn’t support for it in the senate or among the general public. When support is low like that, there is only one reason why you would push the issue: To placate your base.

What is more striking to me, however, is how ambivalent people seemed to be towards the debate in general. Gay marriage was a huge topic in 2004 that was discussion fodder for weeks and months, but in 2006, people seem almost to be bored by it. Allard’s ban was quickly snuffed out after just a few days of discussion, with most congressional members just giving it a token response one way or the other. That ambivalence, in fact, may be a blessing for Republicans; they’re lucky that there wasn’t more of an outrage, since an ABC News poll released earlier in the week showed that only 42 percent of Americans support a ban on gay marriage.

What I think is happening here is similar to what happened in the Colorado legislature in 2004, when voters elected a Democratic majority after tiring of the debate about fringe social issues. With issues like the war in Iraq and domestic spying on the top of people’s minds, it may just be that there is little room for a relatively minor social debate about gay marriage. Allard can rant all he wants about gay marriage being one of the most important issues of the day, but talking about it doesn’t make it so, and the quick death of his proposal in the senate speaks to that.

What does that mean for Colorado? I think it strengthens the odds that Colorado will be the first state to turn back attempts to ban gay marriage. There will always be the people on both sides of the issue who fight passionately, but for those in the middle, the issue may be losing whatever luster it might have had in 2004. If the debate isn’t raging in the fall like it once was, the better-funded and better-organized gay rights groups are going to come out ahead.

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