Obama's gay marriage endorsement could sway state battles

While much of the talk following President Obama's endorsement last week of same-sex marriage has focused on how it may impact his re-election chances, advocates on both sides of the heated issue are claiming it could help their cause at the state level.

Advocates for and against same-sex marriage each see a silver lining, amid speculation over how the president's endorsement will affect gay marriage votes in four states this November.

Those states are Washington, Minnesota, Maine and Maryland. All are states carried handily by Obama in 2008 -- and gay marriage supporters hope the president's popularity combined with his announcement last week will combine to push their cause over the finish line.

"It is a boost because he's such a strong, popular figure here," said Zach Silk of Washington United for Marriage, which is fighting against a referendum that would overturn Washington's gay marriage law. "It's also a boost because he articulated his journey on this in ways that we know voters in Washington are going to have to go through too."

But those working to preserve traditional marriage say the president's words will backfire.

"I think this is going to help Washington state understand the national weight that is going to be brought on Washington in an effort to redefine marriage," said Joe Backholm, spokesman for Preserve Marriage Washington. "It helps people wake up and understand this really is a big deal."

The president's first campaign stop after coming out in support of gay marriage was Seattle, which has a large gay and lesbian community. Many lined the motorcade route with signs thanking Obama for his backing.

Among those in the gay community who believe the president's bully pulpit will help is Washington state Sen. Ed Murray. In particular, he thinks black voters, who have sided with traditional marriage in past elections around the country, could be swayed.

"It reminds some people in the African-American community that hey, we also have members of our community, our churches who are gay and lesbian," said Murray. "We should treat them like we treat everyone else."

Religious leaders aren't so sure.

Joe Fuiten, pastor of the Cedar Park Church in Kirkland, Wash., said Obama's support for gay marriage will not change deeply held beliefs. "He decided he had to do it to get his liberal base behind him again," said Fuiten, "but it's not going to play well in the country."

Gay marriage opponents are on an electoral roll. Same-sex marriage has been on a statewide ballot 32 times and each time, voters have turned it down. The National Organization for Marriage, which supports traditional marriage, has seen a spike in fundraising since Obama's comment. In the first 24 hours, the group collected $100,000 -- which is 10 times above the normal daily haul.

Expect those groups to spend it -- it's anticipated the gay marriage campaigns in the four states with votes in November will spend a combined $50 million.