The ACLU is about to ensure that gay marriage becomes a major issue in Virginia's 2013 election.
Today, the ACLU of Virginia announced that it would be challenging Virginia's ban on Gay marriage in federal court. This is part of a three pronged effort in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia to challenge restrictions on gay marriage. Virginia's ban, known as the Marshall-Newman amendment was passed in 2006 by a 57-43% margin.
The Supreme Court's ruling
On June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court issued two rulings regarding gay marriage. The California Proposition 8 case was dismissed for lack of standing, and was sent back to California for enforcement of the District Court ruling. More importantly, the Defense of Marriage Act decision struck down a key component of DOMA in United States v. Windsor. (My curt analysis of U.S. v. Windsor can be found in my previous article).
These two decisions represented big wins for gay marriage proponents. As of this morning, I expected these victories to have a severe negative affect on liberal turnout in November. Hence, this would benefit Ken Cuccinelli.
What this means for Ken Cuccinelli
This lawsuit will have a huge negative effect for Ken Cuccinelli.
Ken Cuccinelli was one of the patrons of the Marshall-Newman amendment and one of its strongest proponents. Ken Cuccinelli is also the sitting Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as the current Republican candidate for Virginia Governor. In modern history, sitting Attorneys' General in Virginia resign from office during the election year in order to run for Governor. Ken Cuccinelli decided to forego that trend, which has caused some complications. Specifically the Attorney General's office has felt the need to withdraw from two different matters involving (at least tangentially) a company called Star Scientific.
Now, the Attorney General's office will be in the thick of arguing in support of the Marshall-Newman amendment. Whether Cuccinelli wants to, or not, he will be the face of the opposition to gay marriage. Many voters pay little attention to political campaigns until the key campaign season between Labor day and election day. The ACLU lawsuit will probably be prepared for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss to be argued in court in late September or early October. Any attempt by Cuccinelli to avoid discussion of social issues will be easily brought back to the issue du jour in Virginia, which will be gay marriage.
Terry McAuliffe does not need to focus on the issue of gay marriage. He simply needs to state his support (which he has) and allow debate moderators, and or the media to force Cuccinelli to repeatedly discuss his dogged defense of the Marshall-Newman amendment.
This all comes down to turnout
Virginia has off year statewide elections. The country focuses on Virginia and New Jersey each year after a presidential election. New Jersey's race is widely considered to be uninteresting, leaving Virginia at the forefront of national news.
Cuccinelli's base is motivated. No amount of criticism is going to decrease the turnout of the base.
McAuliffe's base is unmotivated. Although many liberals are motivated by *dislike* of Cuccinelli, few actually care for McAuliffe. This enthusiasm gap is cured if McAuliffe has this social issue to run on.
Independents and right/left leaning voters, in my opinion, either support gay marriage, just do not care, or wish the government would just get out of the business altogether. All three of these demographics will be turned off by the Cuccinelli's media manufactured focus on gay marriage, even if they opposed gay marriage in 2006. This is because they would rather the governor focus on the economy, and jobs.
And then there is money. With no nationwide initiative in the next six months, unlimited campaign contributions in Virginia, and an "anti-gay" crusader on the statewide ballot, gay marriage supporters can voice their concerns with their money.
The bottom line
Make no mistake, Ken Cuccinelli is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, but winning statewide office in Virginia requires him to focus on something more than a divisive social issue.
The nature and timing of this lawsuit may very well be the reason McAuliffe wins in November.