Did Gays Cause Kerry to Lose?

Leaders, advocates question ‘moral values’ emphasis attributed to Bush’s margin of victory

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) is countering the conventional wisdom that gay marriage cost Senator John Kerry the presidential election on November 2.

“This was a total and complete homophobic lie,” said Matt Foreman, NGLTF’s executive director, at a November 8 town meeting held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center.

Following Kerry’s loss, pundits, elected officials and political operatives, from the left and the right, pointed to exit poll data that showed that when voters were asked “Which one issue mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?” 22 percent of those polled chose “moral values” out of a list of seven possible answers.

Eighty percent of those who chose “moral values” also voted for President George W. Bush while 18 percent backed Kerry and one percent voted for Ralph Nader.

Foreman said that, following the election, the right wing and the White House promoted the view that “moral values” voters had decided the race. Others took up that view.

“It was wrong and it wasn’t just the right,” Foreman said. “It was some of our own friends.”

Congressman Barney Frank, a gay Massachusetts Democrat, was among those blaming gay marriage for the loss. In Frank’s case, it was the marriages happening outside of Massachusetts that was the problem.

“The thing that agitated people were the mass weddings,” he told The New York Times. “It was a mistake in San Francisco compounded by people in Oregon, New Mexico and New York. What it did was provoke a lot of fears.”

Those “spectacle weddings” created “a sense there was chaos,” according to Frank. Had communities around the country followed the presumably more orderly process that took place in Massachusetts, “I think there would have been some collateral damage” but “a lot less,” Frank told The Times.

Using exit poll data and election results, NGLTF argued that the facts do not support the assertion that it was gay marriage that cost Kerry the White House.

Among the 11 states that had an anti-gay marriage measure on the ballot on November 2, only three were considered competitive. The remaining eight were expected to support Bush and they did.

Two of the three—Michigan and Oregon—went to Kerry not Bush. The third state, Ohio, went for Bush and it has supported the Republican presidential candidate in four out of the last six elections, according to an NGLTF analysis.

The so-called battleground states saw double digit increases in voter turnout in 2004 over 2000. While Ohio was the pivotal state in the presidential election, the results among the three states suggests that it was the presidential race and not the marriage measures that brought those voters to the polls.

In Ohio, there were nearly 200,000 more votes cast in the presidential race than on the marriage measure, further evidence that the voters’ primary interest was the race for the White House, according to the NGLTF analysis.

Ken Sherrill, chair of the political science department at Hunter College, produced an analysis of the 2004 election results for NGLTF that showed that “moral values” are not so much a cause of pro-Bush voting as they are just one more attribute of the voters who supported the president.

Voters who checked “moral values” were also more likely to report attending religious services at least once a week, to be “born again or evangelical Christians,” to give Bush higher job approval ratings and to approve of the Iraq invasion.

The scapegoating of gay marriage may be more of a reflection of the need on the part of the mainstream press for instant and simplistic explanations of events than the true reality, polling experts suggested.

Larry Rosin, president of Edison Media Research, said that the exit poll data did not identify any one thing as determining the election.

“It’s not like we have 100s and zeros,” Rosin said. “Not very Bush voter opposed gay marriage and not every Kerry voter supported gay marriage, so to say that one factor is the only driving factor in how one voted does not jibe with reality.”

Rosin’s firm, along with Mitofsky International, administered the exit poll. The poll questions were written by the Associated Press and the television networks that paid for the poll.

Rosin said that the role of gay marriage in the race, if any, was still unknown.

“That is a question that is going to require an awful lot of study,” he said. “There is no one explanation for any outcome. I think it is very premature for anyone to say this is the one outcome that mattered.”

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