Nate Silver doesn’t like Michael Goldfarb’s suggestion that congressional Republicans could make trouble for congressional Democrats by trying to stop the recognition of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. Silver contends this is no way to lead the GOP back to the “promised land” and says the polling shows “there are now about as many people who favor legalizing gay marriage as do banning abortion.”
Silver is right that this issue won’t produce some kind of national groundswell for Republicans now that support for same-sex marriage is a mainstream, even if still minority, position. But plenty of Democrats, especially in the House, now represent areas where same-sex marriage polls worse than it does nationally. Anything that would put such Democrats on the record voting the pro-same-sex marriage line would be a political liability. For this reason, a lot of these Democrats would probably vote with the Republicans.
Let’s also consider Silver’s abortion analogy. Pro-lifers have routinely used the federal government’s oversight role to block pro-abortion policies in D.C. When the D.C. city council approved public funding of abortion, for example, President George H.W. Bush vetoed the entire city budget and pro-life members of Congress voted to support him. That was when the pro-choice position polls better than it does now; opposition to same-sex marriage still polls better nationally than the pro-life position today.
Finally, Silver writes “[t]here is little doubt that a referendum to permit gay marriage would pass in D.C.” A medical marijuana referendum passed in D.C. too, but that didn’t stop Congress from reversing it (wrongly, in my view). But D.C.’s population is 55 percent black. It is actually not a foregone conclusion such a referendum would pass, though there’s no doubt it would be competitive.