06/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Gay Marriage Not The Potent Presidential Issue It Once Was

Four years after it burst onto the national stage, same-sex marriage is back as an election-year issue, thanks to its court-ordered legalization in California.

It could help Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

The potential boost comes from social conservatives, who've been lukewarm about the Arizona senator but might become energized by the issue of marriage and turn out to vote. They're more likely to vote for McCain than Barack Obama, his Democratic opponent.

"It probably helps McCain," independent pollster Brad Coker said. "It probably increases the chances he'll get some additional conservative votes out of it."

Yet it's not as solid a boost as it was for President Bush in 2004, when more Americans opposed gay marriage, and social conservatives surged to polling places to approve constitutional amendments banning it in 13 states, including such pivotal presidential election battlegrounds as Missouri and Ohio.

"This year is very different than 2004," said Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest advocacy group for gays, lesbians and transgenders.

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