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VOTING-MARRIAGE Nov-5-2004 (840 words) Backgrounder and analysis. With photo. xxxn

Support for marriage seen as crucial to Bush's win of second term

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Years from now, when all the analysis is over, historians might point to a specific moment in the 2004 campaign for president when the tide turned in favor of Republican President George W. Bush over his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

It was early July, two weeks before the Democratic convention, and Bush was speaking out in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

"Because families pass along values and shape character, traditional marriage is also critical to the health of society," Bush said in his July 10 national radio address. "Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of traditional marriage will undermine the family structure."

Some had warned that it was unwise for Bush to put such emphasis on what they viewed as a divisive social policy when voters cared more about Iraq, the war on terrorism and the economy.

"Our analysis of the swing voters shows that they are concerned about Iraq and about the economy, and I don't think they are likely to be swayed, or have strong feelings, about a constitutional amendment," Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, told The New York Times back in July. "If anything, they may see it as putting the emphasis on the wrong place when the country has other problems."

But when it was all said and done, 22 percent of all voters across the United States picked "moral values" as the most important issue facing the nation, followed by the economy and jobs (20 percent) and the war on terrorism (19 percent). Eighty percent of those who saw moral values as the most important issue voted for Bush, according to post-election data released by the National Election Pool.

Eleven state ballots included measures similar to the Federal Marriage Amendment, revising state constitutions to limit marriage to its traditional definition. The measure was approved in all 11 states, including Ohio, where a Bush win secured his victory in the Electoral College, and eight other states won by Bush.

"Clearly the supporters of traditional marriage helped President Bush down the aisle to a second term," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Kerry said during the campaign that he favored restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, but opposed achieving that through the constitutional amendment process.

Catholic leaders nationally and in the states looking at the issue this year had called nearly unanimously for approval of the federal and state amendments.

Only Oregon and Michigan voters approved the amendment to ban same-sex marriage but chose Kerry over Bush. In each of those states, according to the National Election Pool data, voters picked something other than moral values as the most important election issue. For Oregonians it was the war in Iraq, and for those in Michigan, it was the issue of the economy and jobs.

Speaking Nov. 4 at a panel discussion sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Karen M. White, political director of EMILY's List, said Republican organizers "were very smart in arranging their electoral strategy" around issues like same-sex marriage that were likely to bring Bush supporters out to vote.

EMILY's List works to elect "pro-choice Democratic women to federal, state and local office." EMILY is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast.

Democratic strategists may have underestimated the number of people who would flock to the polls over the marriage initiatives, White said. In part that's because when voters are asked what are the most important issues facing American society "most people are not going to say, 'gay marriage,'" she said.

At another post-election discussion the same day, John Kenneth White, politics professor and director of the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America, said that in some ways the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed Bush's campaign the issue it needed to succeed in this election.

Before the state court ruled last November that laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples violate the state constitution, John White said Bush's re-election campaign was stumbling.

The court's decision gave Republican strategists and activists an issue that energized people to come out to vote to pass the marriage initiatives and also support Bush, he said.

Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, said the marriage initiatives brought Bush "a critical bump in support among core Democratic voting groups" that favored the amendment, including African-Americans, Catholics and women.

"Among African-American voters in Ohio alone ... President Bush nearly doubled his support over the 2000 election, from 9 (percent) to 16 percent," Daniels said.

Bush "also improved his support among Catholics and women by 5 percent," he added. "Indeed, America demonstrated broad-based strength and momentum for our Federal Marriage Amendment -- strength and momentum that transcends all racial, cultural and religious boundary lines."

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Contributing to this story was Patricia Zapor.


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