It really can’t be overstated what a massive political shift has taken place regarding views on marriage equality in less than a decade. There is probably no better symbol of how huge this shift has been than how the issue of same-sex marriage was dealt with on the ballot in 2004 compared to expectations for this November.
In 2004 Republicans seized on the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage as a huge political opportunity. The GOP worked hard to put the issue on the ballot in 11 states including important Presidential swing states such as Michigan and Ohio. At the time this was seen as a complete political winner for the GOP. It was a great way to drive turnout for Republicans among conservatives. It became a tool to make the overall election about an issue on which the Republicans believed they firmly had the upper hand. It is likely the measure in Ohio helped George W. Bush carry the state in the close 2004 election.
That year all 11 states voted against same-sex marriage, often by huge margins. It sent the political message that opposing gay marriage was a political winner, while support was a liability.
In just eight years, though, there has almost been a full turnaround. In comparison this November the issue is currently set to appear on the ballot in four states, and in only Minnesota was it placed on the ballot prompted only by Republicans. In Maryland, Washington state, and Maine it is going to be on the ballot primarily because supporters of marriage equality pushed the issue forward confident they could win.
In both Maryland and Washington state, the legislatures approved it without fear of significant political backlash and knowing that opponents would try to put the new laws to a voter referendum. Even though opponents in both states did succeed in getting referendums on the ballot, supporters apparently believe it is a risk worth taking and feel they will win out in the end.
In Maine supporters actively worked to put marriage equality back on the ballot. The group EqualityMaine succeeded in gathering the signatures to qualifying their measure this November. They believe the politics of the issue have shifted so strongly and so quickly that they will win this year even though just three years earlier voters in Maine narrowly rejected same-sex marriage at the ballot.
In a mere eight years same-sex marriage went from a guaranteed big loser at the ballot and an issue opponents used to gin up turnout and win elections, to something its supporters are now confident can win the support of the electorate in several states. Few issues have the politics changed so much so quickly.