Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The New Values Voters: Gay and Transgender Issues

By Jack Jenkins
Originally posted 10/3/12 at the Center for American Progress

Despite longstanding attempts by conservatives to use antigay initiatives as a way to energize “values voters,” Americans are becoming less opposed to marriage equality and increasingly unlikely to base their vote on antigay and antitransgender measures. In fact, a majority of Americans now support extending the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples.

This majority includes millions of religious people, forcing conservatives to rethink their campaign strategies and pressuring religious institutions and hierarchies to acknowledge changing attitudes in the pews. The 2012 campaign in particular has seen a dramatic switch. Many political leaders are now proudly proclaiming support for marriage equality, while opponents of the freedom to marry are being forced to recognize the shrinking appeal of their claims.

For the past several election cycles, conservatives have energized their voting base by parroting a list of “values issues” that included opposition to gay and transgender people, with a particular focus on opposition to marriage equality. In fact, by the time George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, the strategy for garnering “values votes” had reached almost formulaic perfection: Conservative candidates would condemn homosexuality, oppose marriage equality, energize religious conservatives, win the election, and repeat. Antigay rhetoric seemed a guaranteed vote winner, and by 2004, conservatives sponsored ballot initiatives opposing the freedom to marry in swing states like Michigan and Ohio with the goal of bolstering the conservative vote in a difficult re-election campaign. The actual impact of these measures on the 2004 election is still somewhat unclear, but the strategy of attempting to use antigay and antitransgender ballot initiatives to increase conservative turnout is still being used in this year’s election.

But as America surges into a new decade, conservative strategists are finding their tactics stalled by a new reality: Americans’ views on gay and transgender rights and equality have changed.

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