For Gay Marriage Opponents, Election Losses Overstated

The barely restrained euphoria that erupted after gay marriage marked its first wins at the ballot box in this month’s election overstates the significance of those victories for the future of marriage in the United States, leading social conservatives are saying.

Voters in four states approved same-sex marriage questions on the ballot: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. Voters in Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage referenda. In Minnesota, voters turned down a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex while Maine voters reversed a 2009 vote against gay marriage.

It’s the first time that the law on this issue has been changed through the popular vote, rather than a court ruling or state legislation.

Pundits across the political spectrum have triumphantly declared that gay marriage is now inevitable.

“It’s hard to overstate the national significance of this vote,” Marc Solomon, campaign director at Freedom to Marry, was quoted as saying on “I would guess that 50 years from now, the high school civics books will treat Nov. 6, 2012, as a red-letter day in the history of the gay rights movement,” Harvard law professor and historian Michael Klarman told the New York Times.

Such sentiments were echoed in the Republican camp as well: “The die is cast on this issue,” said Steve Schmidt, a former presidential campaign adviser to Senator John McCain and George W. Bush, in a separate New York Times report.

Or is it?

“While four defeats in one day was disappointing, I don’t think we should exaggerate the magnitude of them,” said Peter Sprigg, a Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, in an e-mail interview with Crisis.

He noted that the four states that voted in November were all “liberal, deep blue states.” But the vote nevertheless was a close one. In Maine, a shift of about 35,000 votes would have delivered a win to the other side. In the other three states, the outcome was decided by a range of 80,000 to 100,000 votes out of more than two million cast in each one.

“[T]raditional marriage got 47 to 48 percent of the vote—outperforming the Republican ticket in every state, by margins ranging from 2.5 percent in Minnesota to 11.6 percent in Maryland,” Sprigg said. “If we extrapolate that comparison to the national vote, it suggests that a solid majority of Americans would probably still vote to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

“It’s actually a more bipartisan issue than the GOP ticket,” added Thomas Peters, the Cultural Director for the National Organization for Marriage, which led the fight in the four states.

Rethinking the message?
After a stinging national loss, many in the Republican Party, from the national level to the local, are undergoing a bit of soul-searching. Last week, during the annual fall general assembly for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York suggested traditional marriage advocates do the same.

Dolan noted that traditional marriage opponents “caricature us as these mean-spirited, bigoted people who are trying to impose their medieval views upon the rest of society,” according to the Catholic News Agency.

“We’re constantly trying to think how to re-craft our message,” Dolan said, adding that “there might be an analogy here in the pro-life movement.” After pro-choice advocates won public support by framing abortion as a “matter of choice,” Dolan said that pro-life advocates seized a majority of public opinion a generation ago by “questioning what ‘choice was being made” in the abortion procedure,” according to the CNA report.

Sprigg agreed: “We have a challenge to counter the way our viewpoint is caricatured by our opponents, because the media generally accepts their view. Consider, for example, how they adopt the ‘marriage equality’ framing, when what we are really talking about is marriage redefinition. I agree with Cardinal Dolan that we need to communicate that our viewpoint is pro-marriage, not ‘anti-gay’ (especially not against gay people).”

He said traditional marriage supporters also have to shift the scope of the discussion. At issue, he said, is the “institution of marriage” not “individual marriages.” “We have to emphasize that marriage is a public institution because it benefits children and society, not because it benefits individual couples,” he concluded.

Money hurt marriage—not messaging
But Sprigg and Peters said that messaging was not behind election losses for their side.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is “not against refining our message, but this is not our first rodeo,” Peters said.

Rather, it was funding, an earlier start on campaigning, and a superior get-out-the-vote effort that made the difference.

“I think certainly we were financially outgunned by huge margins,” Peters said.

“I think the main problem was not with the content of our messaging, but our difficulty in getting it out because of the financial imbalance,” Sprigg added.

As a result, for every one pro-traditional marriage ad, there were as many as eight for the other side, according to Peters. “There’s no silver-bullet message that can overcome that,” he said.

The imbalance was even greater for get-out-the-vote efforts. In Maine, for every one voter reached by NOM and its allies, ten were reached by gay marriage advocates—with as many as 250,000 voters ultimately reached by the massive door-to-door canvassing and phone banking campaign by the other side. Door to door campaigning not only ensures that the voter is more likely to show up at the polls—it also makes that voter more likely to agree with you, Peters said.

One added advantage: gay marriage groups hit the airwaves with their ads earlier than NOM and others, allowing them to frame the issue for voters before they had heard both sides of the issue, according to Peters.

Big picture: marriage still a winning issue
What was striking about the four-state votes on gay marriage was that they were the first four wins for advocates—after a long string of defeats. As significant as the victories may have been, traditional marriage supporters say their position has a far better track record of winning over the popular vote.

“I do not think this is a losing battle. Forty one states still define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and 30 do so through their state constitution,” Sprigg said. “Voters in 31 states have rejected same-sex ‘marriage,’ while only three have openly affirmed it. A score of 41-9 or 31-3 is a winning score, not a losing one!”

And just months before the election, one of the marriage amendments passed in North Carolina.

“All the conservative red states have basically settled this issue,” Peters noted.

Next battlegrounds Hawaii to Rhode Island
The likely next battleground states include Hawaii and Rhode Island as well as Illinois, Delaware, and New Jersey.

The states that are being targeted by gay rights activists betray a mistrust of public opinion, according to Peters. As enamored as gay marriage advocates are of their popular vote wins, they’re still not confident the issue is a winner for them at the ballot box, he suggested. “They’re looking at states where they don’t have to worry about same-sex marriage being put on the ballot again,” he said.

Other key battleground states could be Ohio or Oregon, where same-sex marriage advocates may be eyeing an effort to overturn a marriage amendment to those states’ constitutions.

Traditional marriage supporters, on the other hand, are expected to go on the offensive in those states which do not yet have constitutional bans on gay marriage, Peters said. One such state is Pennsylvania, where a proposed state constitutional amendment was stalled in a legislative committee last spring and the most recent poll on the issue shows a slight majority of residents oppose same-sex marriage.

A key bellwether state could be Indiana, where a campaign to pass a state constitutional amendment upholding the traditional definition of marriage is underway. A win for the traditional marriage side “would demonstrate that there has not been a huge momentum swing against us,” Sprigg said.

NOM is also targeting New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law for repeal.

Given that funding was a weakness this time around, NOM and other traditional marriage groups can be expected to focus on fundraising in the future. Peters expressed confidence that the group would be able to ramp up fundraising efforts. The election, he said, had been a wake-up call to traditional marriage supporters and donors. “I think that wake-up is opening up some doors,” Peters said.

The next Roe v. Wade?
Beyond the next battleground states, the issue of marriage is widely expected to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in its next term—most probably a decision on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, after two lower courts, in New York and Boston, ruled that it wasn’t.

Could another historically divisive Supreme Court decision be in the works, a la Roe v. Wade?

Sprigg doubts it. “I think even the liberals on the Supreme Court have likely learned the lesson of Roe v. Wade—that the court cannot unilaterally settle a divisive social issue that is not addressed in the text of the Constitution, when the democratic process is already dealing with it. The 9th Circuit decision in the Proposition 8 case stepped back from that brink, with a ruling that would apply only to California. I am hopeful that the federal Defense of Marriage Act will also be upheld, but even if it were to be struck down, it would leave state definitions intact.”

Ironically, electoral victories for gay couples actually could undermine their case before the Supreme Court. The argument against DOMA, Peters said, hinges on the claim that gay Americans are a culturally powerless group that merits protection against discrimination. That claim, however, is now undermined by the obvious fact that this so-called “powerless group” outspent the opposition many times over, he noted.

“That, I think is a fascinating outcome,” Peters said.

Stephen Beale


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history.

  • Bedarz Iliaci

    Democratic process, in fact, can NOT deal with divisive social issues, by its very nature. The democracy presumes a certain consensus and the democratic process merely decides minor issues such as tariff or who shall be the president this year.

    The fundamental things that define a people can not be settled by elections and voting. They are in a sense pre-political, they are cultural, to use another word.

    Thus, the battle was already lost when it was needed to affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman.

  • publiusnj

    We do need to retool the message and we need to be a lot less
    accommodating. We have been told that religion has no place in the public square
    and certainly Catholicism has no place (any black church and acceptable White
    Protestant ministers like Rick Warren can hold a conference under the weird
    rules of the Secular polity, but nobody in the Catholic Church could without
    fulminations about the need to take away the Church’s 501 (c) (3)

    We should not, though, be cowed into going along with the lie
    that America is no longer a Christian nation. What does Freedom of Religion mean
    if not that the 78% of Americans who consider themselves Christian have as much
    of a right to seek laws reflecting their morality as anyone else? American
    soldiers have long fought for the “American Way of Life.” What does that

    If FDR had sent a message to the nation on the evening of the June
    6,1944 Normandy landings and told it that its “sons” were fighting for the right
    of mothers to kill the babies in their wombs and for them to marry the (male)
    soldier next to them, what would the nation have done? Instead, to get the
    nation to do what needed to be done, he told them:

    “Last night, when I
    spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I
    knew at that moment that troops of
    the United States and our Allies were
    crossing the Channel in another and
    greater operation. It has come to pass with
    success thus far. And so, in
    this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in
    prayer: Almighty God: Our
    sons, pride of our nation, this day have
    set upon a mighty endeavor, a
    struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion,
    and our civilization, and
    to set free a suffering humanity…Some will never return. Embrace these,
    Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom….With Thy
    blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to
    conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of
    our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a
    sure ….Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”

    Now, however, we are to believe that America has become “the land of
    the Free to kill babies and the home of the gay.” I don’t think so and we should
    never stop reminding people of what this nation always returns to when days get

    • Tout

      Thank you, PUBLIJUSNJ. More Americans should realize where there freedom lies. Walk in God’s Law. Apparently, many believers don’t go to weekly Mass. Please, take the family each week to prayer. For your own good, and the future of your children.

    • sheree

      Very well put and insightfully thought of.

  • hombre111

    Stay calm. Stay calm. The ship is listing but it is no reason for alarm.

  • People are not gay or heterosexual. They are male and female made in the image and likeness of God. Attraction and how we identify our selves in our gender are aspects of how we express this image and likeness. As faithful Christians we know, regardless of our feelings or thoughts about our gender or physical attraction to others, God requires us to act according to His Will as clearly stated in His Word. St. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that same sex attraction is the result of sin. The gender anomalies are likely the result of the breakdown of the family and the hormonal variants we now have do to food/contraception and other hormones artificially added to our bodies. If children are going into puberty at age 8 or 9 something has initiated this change. During latency age 7 – 11 our gender expression is important. Imagine the confusion that puberty might cause during this stage. No see the confusion this has caused our children.

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  • elarga

    The author of this article is a bit delusional. The historical trend has been steadily bending in favor of SSM for at least 2 decades; Nov. 6 was inevitable, and marks the definitive turn of the tide. Sprigg’s comment that “we need to communicate that our viewpoint is pro-marriage, not ‘anti-gay'” is no less delusional, because that was EXACTLY the thrust of all the pro-marriage campaigns, and they have been failing and did fail on Nov. 6, and will continue to fail because it is the wrong message. The correct message is that homosexuality is a disorder, and therefore unworthy of marriage. Calling it “traditional marriage” is ridiculous and makes us sound even stupider. Marriage is marriage. The problem is homosexuality not “gay marriage.”

    • publiusnj

      The message should not be that homosexuality is a disorder. That will be deemed either an “irrelevant” religious argument or a psychiatric one that will be refuted by the Amnerican Psychiatric Association (which was coopted by the Gay Movement in the 1970s); it is not a message that will be taken as relevant in the public discourse of the issue. The relevant policy argument is that “gay marriage” has no legitimate state purpose. The state’s interest in marriage is not to foster “loving commitments” in sexual arrangements and/or to confer tax benefits on marriage (indeed, marriage often produces tax penalties under the IRC) but to regulate the most potent activity that occurs in any country: heterosexual congress.
      Heterosexual congress produces children with an amazing regularity. Sure, not every heterosexual marriage will produce children, but the state has no legitimate reason to intrude on the privacy of heterosexual couples to determine which heterosexual marriages will produce children or not. By contrast, unmarried heterosexual congress often produces both children and problems (support issues + challenges to paternity claims + multiple partners, etc.). A marriage regime together with the taboo on unmarried congress used to be a very effective regulator of the consequences of heterosexual congress. When that regime began to be toyed with in the 1960s, illegitimacy rates and all kinds of support issues began to arise in society and we are living with the consequences. Now, we have so lost sight of the purpose of marriage, all kinds of other arrangements are looking to claim the status of marriage.
      Yet, there is a huge difference: homosexual congress will NEVER result in children whether the participants are “married” or not. So, the morally agnostic–if not amoral–state has no reason to foster a particular type of homosexual congress. Homosexual “partners” may even try to replicate the child-rearing process by outsourcing the supply of any needed opposite sex genetic material from a person of the opposite gender, but that just results in another child whose mother and father are not married to one another. The “marriage” may have two participants but one of them is a stranger to the child production process. So “GM” cnnot be the same as Real Marriage and we should insist on talking about the public policy of marriage as intimately related to the production of children.

      • elarga

        That argument will be knocked down in no time because marriage quit being associated principally with child bearing at least 4 decades ago, and in any case I am sure a majority of Americans regard any children produced as a result of “outsourcing” by homosexual couples (or heterosexual ones) to qualify as “children” thus nullifying your main argument. The main objective of the gay marriage movement is not to acquire marital rights for homosexuals but to normalize homosexuality culturally. If I am right about that, then the only relevant and logic (and, in this case, true) response can be: “but it’s not normal.”

        • publiusnj

          Very confused thinking, as well as hung up on a term (“normal”) that is just too amorphous. Concentrating on the simple reality that two people of the same gender can never make children together focuses on a realistic argument relevant to public policy. Children have one female parent and one male whether the parents are “married” or not. Simply put: how are the issue of one of the two gay “partners” the children of the other one unless an adoption occurs, whether they are “married” or not? Adoptions do not require a marital relationship, just a contract.
          Now, while I think a contract to establish two fathers or two mothers as having parental responsibilites should be void as against public policy, let’s put that question to the side. Focusing on natural generation, the reality is that the bulk of nubile heterosexual spouses still marry their partners primarily because they want their “mates” to be the mother (or father) of their children. Not every couple , of course, can have children for one or another reason, but the great bulk of those of marriageable age want to have children eventually. There are exceptions, but the state should not be inquisitorial about the parties’ intentions given their rights to privacy.

  • Bob

    In practice, however, do many gays actually take advantage of the laws in the states that legalized gay marriage and get married?? it doesn’t seem a lot of them do. Regardless, I think if a gay couple that claims legal marriage move to a heterosexual neighborhood with a lot of married families, the gay couple won’t be recognized as being “married” in the true sense of the word. Not because of predjudice or “homophobiia”, but because by the very nature of the married heterosexual couple living the truth of the definition of what marriage really is the falseness of gay marriage will be even clearer. When you put something false (gay marriage) next to something true (heterosexual marriage), the falseness of gay marriage will be even more evident.

    • musicacre

      I don’t think the intention of this pro-active gay agitating has ever had anything to do with marriage. It has more to do with the usual gaining ground in repressive law for Christians, that’s why ALL Christians need to wake up and realize this isn’t just a side issue. When it becomes ‘”legal” suddenly there is a “need” for education in the schools. And along comes unfettered “info” because it’s the law, no one can stop it. The marriage thing is a distraction; it’s about forcing the agenda on innocent children in the schools.

    • sheree

      This is so true–we are taught more by example than by words.


    Well, the latest Pew poll shows a one way trend toward acceptance of SSM among the US adult population. Its now at a crossover point 46%/in favor to 44% opposed. One more level of analysis reveals overwhelming acceptance (around 2/3’s) among adults under 30. Opposition is concentrated in the over 50 group. Acceptance goes up 2 points a year as each cohort of 18 year olds become adults. Simple demographics tells us that this this war is over. It is simply a matter of time. In nine states same sex couples can, or wlil soon, be getting married already and NOT one harm to others as a result could be provided to a court in CA. The conservative Christian opposition to equality for a group of citizens will never succeed – it fact you have already lost. The GOP leveraged this as a low risk hot button issue for a decade. The 2012 election failure is the signal to drop this issue as it will cost them elections. Get used to it. Conservative Christians cannot reverse this trend.

    • MarkRutledge

      There was a time when the same could be said of abortion but we have stemmed the tide of that abomination by appealing to what remains of the moral compass. We can do the same with the idea of same-sex marriage.

  • Carl

    If Obama gets to replace ONE conservative Judge on the SCOTUS they may have enough votes to void any state constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage. If he gets to replace TWO on the SCOTUS it’s over and homosexual marriage is with us forever. And forget about over turning abortion too. Congratulations CINOs (Catholics In Name Only)

    • Tout

      Yes CARL, too many Catholics are so only by name. Real Catholics go weekly to Mass. But it may be necessary that they get FSSP priests. Those do only the Tridentine (Latin) Mass as before 1963: They do not face the people during Mass; people kneel to receive on tongue. In a church without communion-rail to kneel on,I give only 25 c.. I always receive on tongue, God wants to come in us, not in our un-blessed hands. ‘Catholics’ please be Catholic.

  • Tacitus

    No, the author is quite wrong. The defenders of traditional marriage are losing across the board. The issue is legitimizing homosexuality, not marriage. No one is willing to say publicly that homosexuality is wrong. We can only work with circumlocutions such as, “we are defending traditional marriage.” Once you have to defend “traditional marriage,” the battle is already lost!

    • elarga

      Correct. The challenge: how to state honestly the truth about homosexuality as a disorder, while not leaving ourselves open to accusations that we have contempt for homosexuals as persons.

      • HigherCalling

        I attempted to explain the truth about homosexuality to an educated and fairly sensible liberal friend recently. Invoking natural law theory and metaphysical truths, which are perfectly reasonable and persuasive to me, fell completely on deaf ears. In the end I think I was still a bigoted, backward and callous Catholic pushing my morals on society. When the secular (or progressive Catholic) opposition ignores, dismisses, or rejects and then mocks our best classical philosophical arguments, thereby taking those ideas out of the public debate, the false but seductive modern definitions of “compassion,” “fairness,” “equality,” “tolerance,” and “justice” become the automatic ‘rational’ default positions. They are sure to win the debate every time when they control the content from the get-go, and principled thought and intellectual honesty have been altogether removed from the discussion. The debate is rigged in their favor. Changing that is the real challenge.

        • Bob

          Stick to defending your natural law argument. Stand tall…you are standing on the truth. This happens to me also. Ask the homosexual person defending the gay position if they are Catholic/Christian. The vast majority of gays are atheist. Then tell them you are a devout Catholic, and would they like to hear how your great love for Christ and His teachings has changed your life and helped you turn from sin. If they are open and say yes, you are fulfilling the work of your baptismal promise and spreading the Gospel! if they say No, give them your email and tell them (with great love) if in the future they have any questions on Christ or His teachings, you’d love to help out. Then wish them Christ’s love, shake the dust from your sandals, and walk on………and say a prayer for them that night.

      • Bob

        Agreed. Discussing how the act of sodomy goes against the natural law and if you justify gay marriage then therefore you are justifying sodomy. it is an interesting dichotomy….. Almost all pro gay marriage heterosexuals find anal sex between two men repulsive.

  • Bryan

    “The die is cast” means that the question is up in the air, it is still anybody’s guess, up to fate, etc. Although the historical association is with Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, it does not mean that the question has already been decided by fate.

    Now with that admittedly-pedantic aside out of the way, surely all those with eyes to see and ears to hear knew long ago that Obama’s Supreme Court would eventually ram so-called “gay marriage” down America’s throat regardless of any previous or future plebiscites on the matter, just as the issue has always previously been decided by legislative or judicial fiat.

    And we same seeing-and-hearing folks all knew that the plebiscites, being the purview of mobs of thoroughly-indoctrinated “progressive” plebes, would eventually go in favor of the homosexual lobby anyway.

    I am truly sorry, in the literal sense, to have to be so utterly cynical, but those still looking toward “civil,” legislative, or worldly resolution of such matters that will somehow be favorable to Christians in any respect whatsoever are dangerously deceiving themselves. The American book is quite closed to people of true faith, irrespective of religious denomination.

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  • KiAAA

    The Supreme Court will be the final arbiter on the Federal implications of legal gay marriage. The only question of real importance is whether all states will be required to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. My guess is that the Court will find that a state cannot discriminate on the basis of gender of one or both of the spouses in a legal marriage. There is nothing in the U.S. constitution that would allow for such discrimination, but several articles that are incompatible with discrimination. The matter may be moot in a year, depending on how the Court rules.

  • Get Real

    I firmly believe that we ought to be TEACHING WHY we see marriage is only between a man and a woman. There are 3 reasons: Teach the family benefits which involve the woman and man. Two men or two women—sorry—don’t get it. There are differences between men and women. Second- history, tradition, laws, and wisdom of ALL the civilizations that have lasted any time rejected the normality of homosexual “marriage” or “unions.” It has NEVER been accepted. Third, IF we don’t teach “sin” (that homosexual sex and advocacy is a mortal sin) then really, why should it be rejected for God’s people?? The pro homosexual folks say “We are 2 men or women and we need to adopt a homeless child.” They want the response to be , from society,”OHH well then homosexual “unions” and raising a homeless child is better than a child living in an orphanage.” Unless it is an offense against God, that argument might carry. Then the camel will have had his nose under the tent, and the rest of the arguments will be more attractive. Teach that homosexuality practiced,, is an offense against God. That’s the reason most people believe it is WRONG !

  • sheree

    I had to search to find this hope that America will uphold the institution of marriage. Thank you so much for this insightful, honest look at the recent elections. I just wish the people could understand that it is a loving God, Creator, who gave us Romans Chapter 4 for our own sakes. The One who designed us and gives us the blessing of children, knows what is best for those little ones. I don’t try to force my opinions on gay people, but I will try to protect my children. In the end it doesn’t matter who says what–we will all have to stand before God, and then we will know if Romans Chapter 4 was a suggestion or a direction on how to live.

    • sheree

      To err is human, to admit it–divine. I should have said Romans Chapter 1.