Obama's Big Political Risk: How Swing States Feel About Same-Sex Marriage

on May 09 2012 5:28 PM

President Barack Obama's support of legalizing same-sex marriage was both a huge victory for gay rights groups as well as a political risk for the president during an election year.

All eyes are on a group of states that could either go red or blue in November -- and they all have very varying stances on same-sex marriage. Public opinion in North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida has proven to be against same sex marriage, while most Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Hampshire voters think gay couples should be able to tie the knot legally. Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin tend to be split on the issue.

Obama's support of same-sex marriage is historic, but it's more of a symbolic move than anything that has direct legislative impact. He is the first president to back same-sex marriage while in office, but stressed he thinks it's still an issue that should be up for the states to decide.

It's impossible to tell exactly how much of a role Obama's opinion on the issue will play in the election, but it'll definitely play a role in both Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaigns in the upcoming months. Below is a list of 10 battleground states and where they stand on marriage.

North Carolina (15 Electoral Votes)

Obama's comments came just a day after North Carolina approved a ban on gay marriage called Amendment 1. Same-sex marriage was already illegal in the state, but the amendment took things one step further by banning civil unions as well.

A poll by Elon University published in April found that 29.2 percent opposed any legalization of same-sex marriage, 29.1 percent favored civil unions, while 37.5 percent thought gay couples deserved full marriage rights. A Public Policy Polling survey from September 2011 found 61 percent of North Carolina voters thought same-sex marriage should be illegal while 31 percent thought same-sex couples should be allowed to tie the knot legally.

Pennsylvania (21 Electoral Votes)

According to a December 2011 poll by Muhlenberg College/Morning Call, the majority of Pennsylvanians said they believe same-sex marriage should be legal -- 52 percent to 37 percent (9 percent said they were not sure). That majority was maintained among all age groups except for those over the age of 65.

Same-sex marriage, nor civil unions, are currently legal in Pennsylvania. The most recent proposal to allow gay couples to marry included two bills put forth by Sen. Daylin Leach and Rep. Babette Josephs in 2009, but they currently remain in the committee. In 2011, Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introduced a marriage amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, but it was stopped this past March. (Ed. Note: A reader pointed out that Leach and Josephs also re-introduced their pro-same-sex-marriage bills [here and here] in 2011, so the House can still take it up.)

Ohio (20 Electoral Votes)

An October 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 32 percent of Ohioans thought same sex marriage should be legal while 52 percent believed it should be illegal. When asked more specifically about civil unions, 27 percent of poll takers said gay couples should get married, 35 percent said they should be allowed to have civil union but no marry, and 34 percent said there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

The majority of voters - 62 percent -- supported a constitutional amendment in 2004 called Ohio State Issue 1 that would ban same-sex marriage. However, there has recently been a strong push to repeal it.

Virginia (13 Electoral Votes)

The majority of Virginia voters think same sex marriage should be illegal, according to recent polls. A December 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 53 percent believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman while 34 percent thought gay couples should be allowed to marry. A May 2011 Washington Post poll, however found that Virginians were much more split: 47 percent favored legalization of sames sex marriage while 43 percent opposed it.

Close to 60 percent of voters approved a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage in 2006.

Florida (27 Electoral Votes)

Most voters in Florida do not support legalizing same-sex marriage. According to a December 2011 Public Policy Polling survey, 53 percent of Floridians thought gay marriage should be illegal while 37 percent thought it should be allowed. Like Virginia, those numbers evened out when civil unions were thrown into the mix: 34 percent were supportive of civil unions and 31 percent said they were against both marriage and civil unions.

Florida voters banned same-sex marriage and civil unions in November 2008 with 62 percent of the vote.

Wisconsin (10 electoral votes)

50 percent of Wisconsin voters opposed same-sex marriage, according to a PPP survey from August 2011, while 30 percent are in favor of it. That 50 percent dropped when poll takers were asked about civil unions: a third were o.k with the idea and 31 percent thought there should be no civil unions nor marriage for same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage was banned in Wisconsin in 2006, but domestic partnerships have been recognized since August 2009. Wisconsin is still very strict about their marriage policy - couples can be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to 9 months if they go out of state for a marriage contract.

Iowa (7 Electoral Votes)

Iowans are split among the issue same-sex marriage. An August 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 46 percent of voters thought it should be legal while 45 percent thought it should be illegal. A February 2012 poll by the Des Moines Register found that 56 percent of Iowans did not want a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, as opposed to 38 percent who did.

Iowa was the third state -- after Massachusetts and Connecticut -- to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision was made in April 2009 after the state's Supreme Court decided the current ban in place was illegal.

Colorado (9 Electoral Votes)

The majority of Coloradans support gay marriage, but it is not legal in the state. An April 2012 Public Policy Polling Survey found that 47 percent of Colorado voters thought gay couples should be allowed to marry while 40 percent opposed it.

House Republicans killed a bill that would have allowed Civil Unions earlier on Tuesday.

Nevada (5 Electoral Votes)

Opinion on same-sex marriage is split. An August 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that the narrow majority of Nevada voters think gay couples should marry by a margin of 45-44 percent.

Nevada recognizes same-sex unions. Gay marriage was originally banned in 2002 with 67 percent of the vote, but a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enjoy the benefits of a marriage without the license was introduced, vetoed by Governor Jim Gibbons and overridden y the legislature in 2009.

New Hampshire (4 Electoral Votes)

Most New Hampshire voters believed same-sex marriage should be legal in a July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey, 51 percent as opposed to the 38 percent against it. According to a Nelson A. Rockefeller Center poll from April 2012, 55.1 percent of NH voters supported same-sex marriage and 30.9 percent opposed it.

Same-sex marriage became legal in New Hampshire in 2010. A year later, all civil unions automatically were recognized as marriages.

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