Politics

05.14.14

Gay Marriage Doesn't Play in Arkansas

An Arkansas judge's ruling strike down a same-sex marriage ban is getting national attention—so why are local politicians from both parties keeping mum?

When an Arkansas judge ruled last week that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, it set off a blitz of national attention and sent gay and lesbian couples rushing to the courthouse, in the hopes of getting married before the ban could be restored by further litigation.

But inside Arkansas—which features one of the most competitive Senate races in the country as well as a closely contested governor’s race—the political impact has been near minimal. After all, both the Democratic and the Republican candidates in this conservative southern state are opposed to gay marriage. In fact, the only statewide official to support same-sex marriage, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, is leading the legal fight in court to reinstate the ban.  But the fact that candidates from both parties are equally opposed to same-sex marriage isn’t the only reason that the issue has been blunted. It's also a double-edged sword that could hurt local Democrats and Republicans alike.

In fact, representatives of both incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and his GOP challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, dodged multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast about same-sex marriage.

The issue of same-sex marriage is a double-edged sword that could hurt local Democrats and Republicans alike.

According to Jay Barth, a professor of political science at Hendrix College, while opposition to same-sex marriage may help Pryor and former Rep. Mike Ross, the Democratic candidate for Governor, differentiate themselves from the national party, the issue also helps Cotton and former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, the GOP candidate for Governor, by adding extra fuel to the party’s social conservative base. Barth further noted that neither Cotton or Hutchinson are known as social conservative diehards, which lessens the impact.

For the Republicans, beating the anti-same-sex marriage drum would also be slightly off topic for their campaigns. While Cotton has recently been running positive biographical ads in an attempt to boost his lagging poll numbers, his message has focused on Obamacare and tying Pryor to the national Democratic Party. Talking about gay marriage and other social issues would take him down a side path.

The legal battle over same-sex marriage in Arkansas is likely to continue for the near future as the Arkansas Supreme Court considers a motion to stay the Friday’s ruling allowing gay weddings in the state. But while it may rage in the courtroom, for now, it doesn’t seem likely to have an effect at the ballot box.