07/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

California Dreaming: Homophobia Will Not Determine this Election

Here he goes again.

With nothing else left in the right wing's tired play book, former presidential aspirant Gary Bauer is hoping you'll believe that election-year hate-mongering will make a difference in November's contest between pro-GLBT Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain, whose bad record on equality is mitigated only by his votes against the Federal Marriage Amendment that Bauer supports. He stated on that California's historic decision recognizing equal rights for gay and lesbian couples will be a boon to conservative candidates, alluding to the 2004 election cycle, during which he and his allies attempted to use anti-gay amendments at the state and federal level to fire up the right-wing base. He's dreaming.

The myth of 2004 has been shown, time and again, to be just that. As pollster Mark Mellman points out, the only swing state where an amendment in play was Ohio, and the voting there does not indicate that the amendment made a difference:

[B]eneath the argument of those who point to the centrality of gay marriage in the outcome is the bizarre contention that a significant number of voters didn't really care to decide one of the closest and most important presidential elections in Ohio's history, but were motivated to go to the polls to ensure the anti-gay marriage initiative passed with 61 percent, not just 60.

Data make clear there were, in fact, few such people, as sophisticated statistical techniques reveal that less than one-half of 1 percent of Ohio voters cast a ballot on the marriage initiative but not in the presidential race. Four times as many voted for president while skipping the initiative.

Bush pollster Matthew Dowd agrees that the ballot initiatives did not dictate the outcome of the election:

A lot of people have talked about that, well, this was a campaign or a constituency driven by certain social issues. That's actually not true. They are very interested in those issues. The primary motivator of these folks of turning out on Election Day was the support of the president in the war on terror. That was the biggest motivator of these folks on Election Day. Now, was gay marriage important? Yeah, it's important to them. Is abortion important? It's important to them. But that's not what caused people to turn out on Election Day.

So we know from pollsters on both sides of the aisle that Bauer's California dream wasn't even true then, much less now. Here's why it's even less true today:

In the four years since gay and lesbian couples started marrying in Massachusetts, the sky hasn't fallen. The Massachusetts legislature has defeated a proposed amendment to strip these families of their rights, with legislators who supported the amendment losing their jobs to pro-equality candidates.

Over 53% of Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic partner benefits, recognizing that gay and lesbian employees deserve equal compensation for their equal contributions, and that their families should be just as valued.

In California itself, the legislature twice passed a marriage law, and the Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who vetoed those billS -- now supports the Court's decision to recognize all California's families as equal. Polls show that pro-equality Barack Obama was not harmed in California-or anywhere-by the Court's decision. The ballot initiative now facing Californians was in the works for a long time before the Court's May 15 ruling, and the signatures gathered for it simply aren't evidence of a groundswell of opposition to marriage equality or hostility to the ruling.

So by any tangible measure, Gary Bauer's vision of conservatives riding a wave of anti-gay fervor into the White House in 2008 is pure illusion. Why, then, does he bother? It isn't just about getting people to the polls; it's about getting them to open their wallets and purses, to finance right-wing groups. In the absence of ideas that really would strengthen even one family, it's about attempting to make people believe that keeping gay people from marrying is somehow "pro-family."

Of course, as the California Supreme Court wisely noted, excluding me, and people like me, from marriage does not help different-sex couples raise their children, or stay committed to one another. Preventing gay and lesbian couples from receiving the same protections in return for decades of commitment serves no purpose. Nor does including these families-in California, or around the country-pose any threat to any family.

My organization has endorsed Barack Obama, whose message of inclusion we believe will resonate with voters this fall. We're also fighting the marriage amendment in California with all of our strength: equality is one dream that deserves to be kept alive.