Governors Races: Where Will Democrats Support Gay Marriage?

Pat Quinn and Dan Hynes have been arguing about so many different things that it would be easy to miss one of the areas of ...
by | February 1, 2010

Pat Quinn and Dan Hynes have been arguing about so many different things that it would be easy to miss one of the areas of disagreement: gay marriage. Of the two candidates in tomorrow's Democratic primary for governor of Illinois, only Hynes favors gay marriage. Gov. Quinn prefers civil unions.

That difference reflects that, when it comes to gay marriage, the Democratic Party is in transition. Just a few years ago (say in 2004), almost any ambitious Democrat voiced support for gay rights, but stopped short of advocating for same-sex marriage.

In some places, that has obviously changed. In California or New York or any of the New England states that allow same-sex couples to wed, it's pretty much unimaginable that the Democrats would nominate someone for governor who opposes gay marriage.

The question that remains to be answered is whether support for gay marriage will win votes for Democratic primary candidates in a broader groups of states -- whether, perhaps, it will soon be a litmus test for any Democrat running for governor in any state with a bluish tint. Besides Illinois, here are a few of the other states I'll be watching this year to get an answer to that question.

First, it's worth noting a couple of states where the question has basically already been answered. Neither Minnesota nor Rhode Island has addressed gay marriage yet. But, every Democratic candidate for governor in each state favors gay marriage. Minnesota is especially noteworthy because, despite there being ten (!) Democratic candidates, apparently no one thinks there's an opening for a more conservative Democrat (that may in part be do to with importance of the activist-dominated state Democratic convention to picking the party's nominee).

The clearest divide is in Hawaii. Congressman Neil Abercrombie favors gay marriage. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann not only opposes gay marriage, but actually joined a rally at the state capitol against civil unions.

In Pennsylvania, the Democratic field is split down the middle. Former Congressman Joe Hoeffel and Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty favor gay marriage. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and State Auditor Jack Wagner don't. In a state with a reputation (perhaps undeserved?) for cultural conservatism and economic liberalism, I'll be watching whether electability for the general election becomes an issue.

In Michigan, Denise Ilitch increasingly looks like the Democratic frontrunner. And, for now, no one except for Denise Ilitch knows her positions on the issues.

Likewise, New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is considered a gay rights supporter. But, the state has been so occupied with debating a domestic partnership law in recent years that I haven't seen her take a position on marriage. Denish is the presumptive Democratic nominee, so she may have less reason to court her party's base than Democrats in other states.

Finally, while I don't know the position of every Democratic candidate in Maine, both former Attorney General Steve Rowe and Senate President Libby Mitchell, two of the leading candidates, are gay marriage backers. In California, Democrats weren't dissuaded from supporting gay marriage by a narrow setback at the polls. Maine Democrats seem likely to follow the same course after their state rejected gay marriage last year.


Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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