Taking off from Rich’s piece on the Republican presidential race let’s look at same-sex marriage politics. When the Marriage Protection Amendment comes up for a vote in early June, watch John McCain. McCain’s challenge right now is to woo the GOP’s conservative base. A fairly spectacular way for him to do that would be to vote for the MPA.
In 2004, McCain voted against a motion for cloture that would have forced an up or down vote on the amendment. That did not necessarily mean that he opposed the amendment per se. Of course, given McCain’s centrism, and general dislike of religious conservatives, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to oppose the MPA. But don’t discount the possibility that McCain might support the amendment. That could be the most powerful single move he could make to win at least the grudging acquiescence of religious conservatives, and thereby seize the Republican nomination. At minimum, McCain has got to be seriously thinking about endorsing the MPA.
That brings us to Hillary, who also has a big decision to make here. Hillary has long claimed to be opposed to same-sex marriage. Yet she also voted against cloture in 2004. I’m not sure what her stated reasons were, but they probably followed the stated reasons of most Democrats: DOMA will hold, so we don’t need an amendment. Of course, Hillary’s drive to the center has already given her some trouble on her left. But her bigger problem remains the sense of the country that she is to the left of the cultural mainstream. For that reason, it’s likely that Hillary is also seriously considering a vote for MPA. We know that Bill told Kerry to do it. He’s probably given the same advice to Hillary.
Now if both Hillary and McCain were to back MPA (or even just Hillary), that might very possibly bring along some other senators as well. So while nothing is certain, there is at least a plausible scenario in which presidential politics brings a number of new senators into the MPA camp.
If this doesn’t happen (and possibly even if it does), then I think we’re looking at another few elections in which the gay marriage issue tips the balance. It’s quite possible that we’re going to see another state go for gay marriage in the next year or two. Washington and New Jersey are major candidates, and there are others. And constitutional amendments will continue to be on state ballots for some time. So either we’re in the same political dynamic as 2004, or Hillary and/or McCain try to defuse the issue by endorsing MPA (or all of the above).