The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 3, 2014

'Stunning' shift on gay marriage is changing political landscape

WASHINGTON — When the new attorney general in Virginia decided recently to oppose his state’s ban on gay marriage, it might have been dismissed as an isolated move by a Democrat seeking to reverse Republican policy. But it underscored the speed and breadth of a fundamental change in the country.

Public opinion on same-sex marriage is changing at breathtaking speed. Voters across the nation are dropping their opposition, and many state gay marriage bans just recently adopted are already coming under assault.

“On no issue in American life have opinions changed as fast as they have on gay rights,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster and political consultant. “It is truly a stunning development.”

The change is especially vexing for Republicans, who used the issue to get conservative voters to the polls just a decade ago and now are torn between their traditional stance and political base on one hand and the quickly changing political landscape on the other.

Among the most dramatic shifts are in politically key battleground states such as Virginia, which was a bellwether in the last two presidential elections.

The state’s newly elected attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, announced recently that he’d join a lawsuit to overturn Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. It wasn’t just an abrupt reversal from his Republican predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli — who vehemently opposed gay marriage and who lost a bid for the governor’s office in November — it underscored a turn for the state itself.

The ban passed eight years ago with the support of 57 percent of the state’s voters, including Herring, who says his views on the issue have evolved. He’s not the only one to change his mind. Polls find that most other Virginians now support same-sex marriage, with 56 percent of likely voters opposing the state’s ban in an October poll by Virginia’s Christopher Newport University.

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