Obama coming out for marriage equality today was obviously the right thing on the merits. But will it hurt him politically? I argue that 1)such claims are extremely implausible, and 2)arguments that same-sex marriage cost the Democrats in 2004 are empirically wrong:
But I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Obama doing the right thing today will help Romney in November. It’s important to remember that Obama and Romney were substantially different on gay and lesbian rights before this afternoon. To believe that Romney will benefit significantly from Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage rights, you would have to believe that there’s a group of voters who 1) care enough about same-sex marriage to make it their top priority in a federal election, but 2) are willing to ignore Obama’s pro-LBGT rights record as long as he doesn’t nominally support same-sex marriage. The number of people who fit into this class is too trivial to be worth worrying about. It’s likely that some-risk adverse advisers cited the argument that same-sex marriage cost John Kerry the election in 2004. But there’s no evidence that this is true. Given that same-sex marriage is significantly more popular now than it was eight years ago, it’s even more unlikely that same-sex marriage would damage Obama now.
And, to reiterate, I don’t mean this as a criticism of Obama. Whatever the effects of Obama’s position-taking. what motivated him to do so is beside the point.