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Same-Sex Marriage No Longer The Political Wedge It Once Was


The number of states now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples has grown by five. Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way, six other states are expected to follow shortly. The High Court yesterday declined to hear arguments from several states where bans on same-sex marriage had been struck down. NPR's Scott Horsley reports on how politicians are responding to the rapidly evolving same-sex marriage map.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The Supreme Court decision means gay marriage will soon be legal in 30 of the 50 states, including Wisconsin. Republican Governor Scott Walker opposes same-sex marriage, but Walker, who's locked in a tight race for reelection, did not put up much of a fight yesterday when the Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling legalizing gay marriage in his state.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: It is clear that the position of the Court of Appeals at the federal level is the law of the land, and we're going to go forward in acting that.

HORSLEY: Walker's muted reaction may reflect political calculation as much as legal analysis.

SARAH WARBELOW: We're not in 2004 any longer.

HORSLEY: Sarah Warbelow is legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group. A decade ago, Republicans used opposition to gay marriage as a wedge issue to mobilize supporters. But Warbelow says public attitudes have undergone a sea change since then. A majority of voters nationwide now support same-sex marriage. Young people are particularly supportive, including more than 60 percent of Republicans under the age of 30.

WARBELOW: I think we're going to reach a point where politicians no longer want to have fights over accepting LGBT Americans. It's not over, but it will be within a matter of a decade.

HORSLEY: Wisconsin's Walker says his own views on same-sex marriage have not changed, but when pressed about the new legal landscape, Walker seemed perfectly happy to change the subject.

WALKER: I'd rather be talking the future now, more about our jobs plan and our plan for the future of the state. I think that's what really matters to my kids. It's not this issue.

HORSLEY: To be sure, the strongest opponents of gay marriage are not ready to surrender. Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, bristled at Walker's comment that the battle in Wisconsin is over.

BRIAN BROWN: The voters have to stand up and say enough is enough. We're not going to accept a tyranny of unelected judges.

HORSLEY: Brown argues same-sex marriage remains a hot-button issue for social conservatives who play an outsized role in Republican primaries. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who's considering a presidential bid, promised to introduce a constitutional amendment defending states' rights to define marriage as they choose. Of the 11 states affected by yesterday's Supreme Court move, several have hotly contested Senate races, including North Carolina. The Democratic incumbent there, Kay Hagan, supports same-sex marriage even though voters in her state outlawed it by a wide margin just two years ago. Tami Fitzgerald, who leads the North Carolina Values Coalition, hopes to make Hagan's position a liability.

TAMI FITZGERALD: When people go to the polls in November, they need to remember that Kay Hagan supports same-sex marriage, and it's very important because it's the U.S. Senate that confirms these judges that are making these bad decisions.

HORSLEY: In Colorado, where polls show stronger support for same-sex marriage, Democratic Senator Mark Udall welcomed yesterday's move by the court. And in blue state Oregon even the Republican Senate candidate is touting her support for gay marriage with a TV testimonial from one of the men who sued to make it legal.


BEN WEST: That's why I support Monica Wehby for Senate. I know she'll fight for every Oregon family, including mine.

HORSLEY: The Supreme Court will have other chances to revisit the issue of same-sex marriage. Cases are still pending in two other appeals courts, but by allowing gay marriage to proceed in 11 additional states, the High Court may have unintentionally tipped the scales. More than half the country's population will soon live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. The Human Rights Campaign's Warbelow says all those newly sanctioned unions will make the cause of same-sex marriage more visible and personal and that much more difficult for judges or politicians to reverse. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.