More straights are marching under the gay rights banner. credit: Creative Commons

In light of my last post on President Obama’s repositioning in support of gay-marriage rights, I found this recent GOP strategy memo fascinating. It’s from President George W. Bush’s 2004 pollster, Jan R. van Lohuizen. Within a few years of Bush’s re-election victory – after a campaign heavy with anti-gay-marriage tub-thumping, van Lohuizen crunched the numbers and recommended that Republicans consider the following (my emphasis):

Support for same sex marriage has been growing and in the last few years support has grown at an accelerated rate with no sign of slowing down.   A review of public polling shows that up to 2009 support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1% a year.  Starting in 2010 the change in the level of support accelerated to 5% a year.

Again: this accelerating change in attitudes is the real political watershed, not Obama’s belated announcement in support of gay marriage. If van Lohuizen’s analysis is accurate, that means as many as 3 million voters will become significantly more accepting of gay marriage between now and election day. And many of those who “evolve,” as Obama did, will be swing voters in swing states. The economy will decide their vote more than any other issue, of course. But if it continues to improve slightly, voters who aren’t totally frustrated will review other issues before casting a vote. Thus Obama’s announcement broadened the campaign agenda by inserting the contentious gay marriage debate into the mix, and he’s on the side with momentum.

Earlier, I looked at the trouble this issue will cause the GOP, especially among its fundagelical supporters in southern states. For example, the 2008 Louisiana Republican Party platform reads:

We believe homosexuality should not be established as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle either in public education or in public policy. We do not believe public schools should be used to teach children that homosexuality is normal, and we do not believe that taxpayers should fund benefit plans for unmarried partners.

We oppose actions, such as “marriage” or the adoption of children by same-sex couples. We support the Defense of Marriage Act and support constitutional amendments to both the U.S. and the Louisiana Constitutions to ensure that marriage is limited to the union of one man and one woman.

If national attitudes are indeed trending towards gay marriage at a pace of 5 percent per year, it won’t take long before such views appear wildly out of step – not just with the nation, but with the national Republican Party.

But what about Louisiana’s Democratic politicians? We shouldn’t leave them unmentioned, even if they’ve become scarce in statewide offices. Don’t expect Senator Mary Landrieu to “evolve” on gay marriage any time soon. In fact, the issue might be a boon, because her opposition allows her to buck the national Democratic party (once again) in a way that will appeal to most Louisianians. For a long time I’ve assumed that this will be Sen. Landrieu’s last term. But if she decides to run for re-election, her continued opposition to gay marriage certainly won’t hurt her chances.

The situation for her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is much more ticklish. As a leader of a city with a large gay population that regularly appeals to gay tourists (not to mention his being a Louisiana pol who is not afraid to identify himself as a liberal), Landrieu could come out for gay marriage with little political risk. Thus far he’s been quietly opposed. Maybe he just doesn’t believe in it, based on his religious convictions as a Catholic. Either way, an experienced operator like Landrieu understands that if he harbors any ambition to return to statewide office, announced support for gay marriage would be an immediate deal-killer.

The central question I keep returning to is this: what accounts for the dramatic change in national attitudes on gay marriage in recent years? We’ve reached and passed a tipping point, but no one can explain precisely why. In less than a decade’s time, we’re seeing two presidents (Bush and Obama) use different sides of an issue – marriage! –  in bids for re-election.

Simple demographics can’t explain the trend. It’s true that most people who die today are against gay marriage, while most of those registering to vote these days are for it (or at least not bothered by it). But that can’t explain the acceleration in the poll numbers. Did popular culture bring us here –  New Orleans’ own Ellen Degeneres and popular sitcoms like ABC’s “Modern Family”? Or is our liberalized attitude just a cumulative effect of the straight community having more contact with “out” gay couples who, like them, just strive to form loving families and raise well-adjusted kids?

Tell me what you think.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...