Choosing more than a candidate
Sam Stryker | Thursday, November 1, 2012
Like the other 46 states in the country, Tuesday is Election Day for Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. But for voters in those four states, casting a ballot does not just mean choosing a new president – it also determines whether or not gay marriage will be legalized.
In Maine, Washington and Maryland, ballots feature referendums that would legalize same-sex marriages in the states. In Minnesota, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage will be put up for a vote.
For senior Maura Newell, a native of Seattle, the fight is personal. With a gay brother, uncle and aunt, she says gay rights issues are “very much so” a consideration next Tuesday.
“It is probably one of the deciding factors for me,” she said.
Just as voters in these four states will cast their ballots differently, the two presidential candidates stand in opposition on many gay rights issues.
Democratic candidate President Barack Obama voiced support for same-sex marriages earlier in the year, the first sitting president to do so.
During his term in office, Obama also signed a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and announced the Department of Justice would no longer uphold Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against equal protection constitutional challenges brought by same-sex couples married under state law.
In comparison, his Republican opponent Gov. Mitt Romney, supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage, in addition to a ban on same-sex civil unions if they differ from marriage in name only. Romney has said he would not seek to overturn the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Newell said she is pleased with the increased discourse on gay rights, saying the issue is a “hot topic” right now.
“I just think it is going to be one of those things that we’re going to look back and be [like], ‘What were people even thinking?'”
A ‘big deal’ when casting the ballot?
Senior Pat Adams, who already has cast his ballot for Romney, said he does not support same-sex marriage because it conflicts with his faith.
“As a practicing Catholic – I am a theology major – I look to the Catholic Church to help me form my conscience on issues like this,” he said. “The Catechism is pretty clear there is a distinction between orientation and action.”
Gay rights issues were “relatively important” but not the most prominent issue in casting his ballot for the Republican candidate, Adams said. He said the issue of same-sex marriage and other gay rights have not been prominent in either candidate’s campaign.
“To be totally honest, neither campaign talked about it a whole lot,” he said. “I think it is a pretty good strategy on both sides because the focus of the election has overwhelmingly [been] on the economy.”
Senior Carson Kirkpatrick, who is gay, said gay rights issues are a “big deal” for him in the upcoming election.
“And I think for my friends, it is too, even some of my straight friends have expressed concern whether or not they should vote for Obama or Mitt Romney,” he said. “The ones that are more moderate or on the fence. … I think where their split is their economic views and social views.”
Kirkpatrick said he thinks there is a struggle for voters in choosing between candidates that may appeal to different issues at stake.
“There is no middle ground between the two candidates,” he said. “You can pick Mitt Romney … but he’s going to do something you don’t believe in the social area, and with Obama, some people have argued he’s had a chance to fix the economy, and the economy is not fixed, but then he is on the right track socially.”
Newell said she recognizes much of popular support for Romney stems from his successful business career and his economic policies. However, she said this is just one issue in determining a candidate.
“As much as that of course is important, people are people. We’re not just members of this country where we work every day,” Newell said. “So that is what concerns me, that he may make progress in some arenas – but I can definitely see him putting that on the back-burner.”
Senior Lauren Peartree, whose older brother is gay, said there is a momentum of support for same-sex marriage among younger generations, something she does not see totally stopping even if Romney is elected.
“I hope it will [continue],” she said. “I think it has a lot to do with our generation growing up, and how we view things.”
But if Romney is elected, Peartree said she hopes the Republican candidate becomes more moderate in his views on gay rights.
“I think [a lot of what he says] is to get the conservative vote,” she said. “I don’t think he is necessarily close-minded. I don’t know if it is me being idealistic, but it’s what I would like to think.”
However, she said the fact gay rights issues are an integral component of political discourse is to not be taken lightly.
“I personally don’t think it is an issue to be ignored,” Peartree said.
With several gay relatives, Newell said she sometimes forgets others may not be as personally invested in supporting same-sex marriage.
“For me, I can’t imagine telling my brother or my uncle or my aunt they can’t marry the person they love,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t have that because they are removed from it, and they never even talked to someone that is gay. For me it is just something that is just so in-my-face, I guess I am just emotionally charged.”
Most of Newell’s friends are “totally on board” with Referendum 74, which would allow for same-sex marriage in Washington while also preserving the right to refuse to perform, recognize or accommodate any marriage ceremony.
“I think with most people I know from Seattle, maybe because it is more liberal, it kind of is just like, ‘Why are we even talking about this any more?'” she said.
Senior Molly Millet, a native of Maryland who has a gay relative, said one of the main reasons she registered to vote is to vote on Question 6, a state referendum that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. She said while she would still be voting for same-sex marriage regardless, having a gay relative makes the fight important to her.
“I would still hold the same beliefs,” Millet said. “I just think seeing it on a more personal level and having the exposure to the fact that there are people close to me I think should be able to get married.
“I think they are some of the most healthy, normal couples I have ever seen. The fact that I have had the personal exposure to it makes it that much more important to me.”
Like Newell, Millet said she sees similar sentiments of support among her friends back home.
“Because it is something that a lot of young people care about and I think are a little more unanimous on than older generations, I see a lot of my friends getting a little more involved because of this issue that might not otherwise be as politically involved,” she said.
At Notre Dame, Adams said he feels his views are shared by many – but not the majority -because it is a Catholic university.
“Other people are coming from the same spot,” he said. “I would say definitely in terms of being a 21-year-old male in the context of other universities, I don’t think it is a normal position at all. But for Notre Dame, I think it is fair to say there is a pretty conservative base on campus.”
Going to Notre Dame, Millet said she has come into contact with other students who do not share her beliefs on same-sex marriage.
“I’ve been in conversation with people who are vehemently against it,” she said. “I am not a confrontational person and I don’t want to start an issue that doesn’t need to be brought up, but the arguments I have heard that are against gay marriage don’t make sense to me.”
For Newell, those who make a decision to not support same-sex marriage based on religious beliefs without exposing themselves to the gay community is “really scary.”
“It’s just like they don’t know it, they make no effort to know it, so that’s it, their mind is made up,” she said. “I don’t get how other people can choose how other people’s lives are determined … It’s so archaic to me.”
Political ‘give and take’
Senior Tom Temmerman is gay – but he also has already cast his vote for Romney. While he said gay rights issues are “really important” to him, he has to engage in a “give and take” with respect to whom he votes for.
“I’m voting on all of the issues,” he said. “I’m not super pleased with either of the candidates.”
Temmerman said he feels he can vote for a candidate without agreeing with every facet of his platform.
“It’s hard,” Temmerman said. “It’s one of those things where people are like, ‘How can you even support that? They say terrible things about [gay rights], but at the same time … if they did say positive things, they would lose a lot of people who support them. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t support that, I’m not pleased when [Romney] says stuff like that.”
Temmerman said he does not take Romney’s opposition on same-sex marriage personally, but he is worried if elected, Romney may slow the momentum of the gay rights movement.
“That’s my only concern … but I don’t think he has the power to stop it from happening,” he said. “I don’t think the amount of power he has to slow it down is that great, just because it has become such a predominant issue. I think there are a lot of people who will rally in support of it and keep it moving forward.”