Ten years ago, Georgia voters flocked to the polls for a general election to select a president and to overwhelmingly approve a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
In November, Georgia voters will be heading to the polls for two high-profile elections: to vote for a governor and a U.S. Senator. Pro- gressive voters are hoping to “turn Georgia blue” by electing Democrat Michelle Nunn into Congress and Democratic state Sen. Ja- son Carter as the next governor.
Neither will be able to do so without the support of LGBT voters, but what kind of effect those LGBT voters will have in the poll- ing booths is still uncertain.
Charles Bullock, the Richard B. Russell Professor of political science at the University of Georgia, believes neither Nunn nor Carter can win if they embrace as part of their platform support for same-sex marriage.
“I don’t think you will see a Georgia state-wide politician embracing support for gay marriage,” Bullock said April 11. “Embracing same-sex marriage is not an asset for Democratic candidates.”
However, Bullock admitted he had not heard that Carter only days previously had publicly stated his support of marriage equality to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creative Loafing after pressure was put on him to do so by the LGBT media. So, since Carter came out in support of marriage equality, are his chances of winning now zero?
“He still has some chance, although what he has to hope for is a stumble on the part of Republicans,” Bullock said. “I think that’s also the same for Michelle Nunn. These are both races for Republicans to lose.”
Despite Bullock’s grim outlook for Democratic candidates’ chances of victory while publicly supporting LGBT equality, including marriage, he readily acknowledges that 2014 is much different from 2004. The public outcry and knee-jerk reaction to such issues by voters has largely vanished from the electorate.
“Carter’s position might mobilize some who otherwise might not vote in a mid-term election. And it could also help with fund- raising,” he added.
WILL DEAL GO ANTI-GAY?
At a July LGBT fundraiser, Carter raised nearly $100,000 without even saying the words “gay” or “LGBT.”
Several people in Atlanta’s LGBT community who attended the fundraiser stated on social media it would be wrong to ask Carter to publicly support marriage equality, be- cause to do so would ruin any chance they have of winning.
It’s not like Carter was doing anything new. In 2010, when Roy Barnes was trying to regain his seat as governor, he and other top Democrats attended an LGBT fund- raiser. While Barnes and others were will- ing to talk about gay issues in one-on-one interviews with reporters, they did not say anything LGBT-related in their pitches to the audience.
Barnes lost that election to Nathan Deal, who ran one of the most anti-gay campaigns in Georgia history to win the Republican nomination over Karen Handel.
Bullock believes Georgia Republicans have that anti-gay campaign bias in their veins still, despite the national, and state- wide, polling that shows more than half of voters support same-sex marriage.
“I would not be surprised if ads run later on that will be attacking Carter on his stance [for marriage equality],” Bullock said. “Not necessarily by the Deal campaign but other groups.”
A request for comment from Deal’s campaign for this story was not returned by press time.
Still, Bullock recommended, statewide politicians in Georgia would do best to wait for marriage equality to come to the state through litigation rather than to make it any part of their platform for change.
“I liken it to the number of school officials 40 years ago—they knew integration was coming. But those who were conservative and in rural areas, they wait to get sued and would rather fight and lose than announce to their constituency that this is law of the land and we need to comply,” he explained.
“Even if Jason Carter wins and says the law needs to change, he will likely be like Bill Clinton and the issue of gays in the military.”
NUNN’S ‘HARMLESS PANDERING’ ACTUALLY HURTFUL TO LGBT VOTERS
LGBT support is there for Nunn, but perhaps not as strongly as for Carter. Nunn’s position is to allow the states to decide on same-sex marriage, which is the same view her Republican opponent, David Perdue, holds. Bullock believes because of that, her support by LGBT voters is “less enthusiastic” than that for Carter.
Atlanta attorneys and LGBT activists Jeff Cleghorn and Dan Grossman voiced their displeasure with Nunn’s position in an Aug. 8 guest editorial on the GA Voice website and urged her to change her mind and support same-sex marriage. Calls to her campaign for comment have gone unanswered.
“While gay voters and donors already know why Ms. Nunn’s position on marriage is wrong, many seem to believe it is just harmless pandering that can safely be ignored. We think it is important to understand that this stance is far from benign; it does great harm to gay people individually and to our movement toward full equality,” they wrote in the web piece.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, told the GA Voice he can understand the caution by some gay voters, especially those in the South, on whether or not to demand politicians come out in support of same-sex marriage.
“I understand the concern because a number of years ago, particularly in the South, this was a weapon used against our community with ballot measures,” he said. “But I’m confident that the tide has turned on marriage.”
Since a major portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last June, more than 20 courts have ruled their state bans on same- sex marriage are unconstitutional.
“Most recognize marriage is going to be the law of land,” Solomon said. “The over- whelming majority of voters believes that. It is nowhere as divisive an issue it once was.”
And with this national sea-change in the acceptance of marriage equality, voters want, and are demanding, politicians clearly state their support for LGBT equality.
“I really think most people now expect the Democrats to support marriage equality and I think voters want someone who is open and who will enunciate their true beliefs on the matter,” Solomon added, “even in Georgia and in the South.”
“I mean, who will they lose?” Solomon asked. “I really think the issue now is if you believe in marriage for gay people you can, certainly as a Democrat, you can enunciate it without much concern.”
Bryan Long is the executive director of Better Georgia, a progressive group working to oust Deal as governor. Long is also gay and was thrilled to hear Carter publicly state his support for marriage equality.
“Same-sex marriage is no longer a political wedge and the partisan politicians who used it for decades to fire up their base have largely stopped bringing up the issue,” he told GA Voice.
“From what I’ve seen, issues of equality are non-negotiable for Jason Carter and for most Georgians. On the other hand, Gov. Deal is opposed to marriage equality and has a history of looking out for himself instead of the people he represents. Gov. Deal’s position appeals to a fringe of his base and will not help him on Election Day. The fact that most Georgians support equality will be evident on Nov. 4,” he added.
As for Nunn’s wishy-washy position on marriage equality, Long said, “Every statewide candidate will face the same pool of voters on Nov. 4. Our position is that civil rights and equality don’t end at the state line.”