Gay Marriage and the Governor's Race

04/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

State Senator Bill Brady, the Republican gubernatorial nominee-in-waiting, recently proposed five amendments to the Illinois Constitution. Four of them address fiscal and ethical matters, while the fifth would hereafter ban both gay marriage and civil unions in the state. Given the Illinois' $13 billion budget deficit and endemic corruption, the first four, at minimum, merit consideration. The fifth is puzzling unless one pulls back the partisan and policymaking veneer.

Given the ballot limit of three constitutional amendments per statewide election, the docket this November will be crowded with an amendment to enable recalls of current governors already garnering voter review. Add to this Brady's status as a backbencher in the minority party, drowned out by universal Democratic control of Springfield, and the likelihood of Brady's amendment even receiving consideration is slim and none.

Brady, no stranger to the semantics of Springfield, obviously eyes this amendment as a means of galvanizing conservative support for his candidacy and serving as a wedge issue between him and Governor Quinn heading into the November election. However, the degree to which gay marriage amendments tip elections is disputed.

Thomas Frank, in his widely cited work What's the Matter with Kansas, suggests that middle-to-lower income voters are driven by social issues and thus vote Republican and against their economic self-interest. Others have proven quite the opposite. These studies suggest that middle-to-upper income voters are the ones whose votes are driven by their social issue inclination, while their lower income counterparts are much more fiscally focused.

Morris Fiorina, in his latest book titled Disconnect, claims that ideological polarization itself is elite-driven. Most Americans have moderate positions on the controversial issues of the day and in total fail to line up perfectly with either party platform. The electorate thus appears polarized on account of the choices we are forced to make in candidates who represent the endpoints of the political spectrum.

If Fiorina is correct, Brady would be wise to tread lightly on this mother of polarizing issues. Governor Quinn opposes gay marriage, but favors civil unions, and almost certainly would stand against Brady's amendment.

Gay rights, and social movement issues more generally, fit within a typology of social movement demands and a balance of resources and political opportunities according to Gary Mucciaroni in Same Sex, Different Politics. Advancements on gay adoption and the legalization of same-sex sexual conduct are attributed to the balance of resources and political opportunities favoring pro-gay interests. Hate crimes and civil rights protections for homosexuals have also passed muster on account of the fact that the perceived threats from these laws is low. While gays in the armed forces represent a similarly low "threat," the balance of resources and political opportunities favors its opponents, namely the military brass, and progress, until late, has been stifled. Gay marriage represents the worst of both worlds: resources and political opportunities favor its opponents and its perceived threat is high. To date, "victories" have occurred in only a handful of states. Brady is playing to this "winning" combination.

Beyond Brady's political calculations in sponsoring an anti-gay marriage and civil union amendment, policy calculations are also in play. John Green, in the Politics of Gay Rights, situates opposition to homosexual rights squarely in the hands of religious traditionalism and the Christian right. He identifies three primary oppositional strategies the movement pursues, instrumental, reactive, and proactive. Instrumental opposition is the use of anti-gay rhetoric to gain power. Reactive opposition is the rejection or repeal of progay policies. Proactive opposition is an attempt to preemptively stymie attempts to further gay rights.

Brady is arguably engaging in both instrumental and proactive opposition. As suggested above, his institutional opposition in the form of an anti-gay constitutional amendment is a blatant play for conservative votes this November in what is expected to be an intensely competitive contest. The amendment itself is proactive in the sense that it makes gay marriage and same-sex civil unions forever illegal at a time when neither form of homosexual relationship is recognized by the state.

Brady's foray into the political and policymaking thicket of gay marriage is precarious on the first front and a sure loser on the second. In a "blue" state that produced a progressive president and currently clings to unified Democratic control of all constitutional offices, Brady's calculated sponsorship of an anti-gay marriage amendment may sell south of I-80, but will be a tougher row to hoe in the collar counties of Chicago where a statewide Republican candidate must fare well to offset huge Democratic majorities in Cook County. His instrumental attempt to prohibit gay marriage and same-sex civil unions, at least with the current partisan balance in Springfield, is dead on arrival.