Barack Obama is the first sitting American president to express his support for gay marriage, and he’s hoping to cash in on that political capital come November.
Shortly after the president announced his support for gay marriage in May, his campaign launched its latest targeted voter outreach effort — “Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama.”
The national outreach effort is supported by vote directors in key battleground states, including Ohio.
“This is something that was important to us to make sure we’re making every effort we can to reach out to constituencies in every corner of the state,” says Ohio LGBT Vote Director Jacob Manser.
Manser says his primary role is to make sure the LGBT community is plugged into Obama’s grassroots campaign. The neighborhood teams that make up the campaign handle registering new voters, door-to-door canvassing and phone banking.
While Obama’s is one of the first presidential campaigns to make a concentrated outreach to the LGBT community (Manser says there was no state-level LGBT director in Ohio last election), Romney is an avowed opponent of gay marriage.
Romney signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge to oppose same-sex marriage while campaigning in the Republican primary.
ThinkProgress reports that Romney in 2008 donated $10,000 to the National Organization for Marriage through his Free and Strong America PAC.
Manser, based out of Columbus, says it’s his job to remind people of the Obama administration’s accomplishments for the LGBT community and work with local groups to get out the vote.
Obama’s website touts his administration’s order to the federal government to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, banning of gender identity-based discrimination in federal workplaces, ensuring hospital visitation and decision-making rights for gay and lesbian patients and allowing transgendered Americans to receive “true gender” passports without surgery.
Former Cincinnati mayor, TV host and self-professed liberal Democrat Jerry Springer will be in town Aug.
“The idea is that freedom is indivisible, so you can’t say let’s have freedom for one group and not another,” Springer said. “It’s just so basic it’s almost embarrassing to talk about anymore.”
“The whole idea is, we have to stop people telling other people how to live their lives.”
Springer said it is important to reach out to all groups to get Obama reelected and worried what the country might look like if Romney took office.
“The Republican Congress and a very right wing Congress, you couple that with a Republican president who won’t veto anything they do, the stampede to the right that could take place in Washington in the period of time … is just scary,” he said. “I think that’s why there’s the reach out this time and I think that’s why people will respond.”
The Obama campaign is hoping the outreach will push more people to go out and vote on Nov. 6, which has historically proven true, according to Equality Ohio Interim Executive Director Kim Welter.
“The people who are less likely to vote — single women, racial minorities, LGBT folks, college students — if you can get them out they’re generally more likely to vote progressive,” Welter said.
That said, she thinks the outreach will be most effective in swing states like Ohio.
Given that, does the Obama campaign even need to reach out to the LGBT community?
In a 2012 issue brief for Columbia University Academic Commons, Virat K. Gupta claims that members of the LGBT community typically vote strongly Democratic.
The paper points out that gay and lesbian voters compose a greater portion of the U.S. voting population than in years past, and the Democratic Party is increasingly associating their party agenda and platform with gay rights and issues of equality.
Gupta points out that in 2000, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore won nearly 70 percent of the LGBT votes, while only receiving 47 percent of non-LGBT votes. In 2004 John Kerry also won 70 percent of the LGBT votes, and Obama won more than 77 percent of gay and lesbian voters.
Welter would disagree with that assessment, saying that LGBT people are often raisedby straight parents and come from all backgrounds.
“You really can’t say we’re a consistent voting bloc. That said, if we’re going to vote because of LGBT issues, we’re going to vote progressive.”
Equality Ohio has endorsed Obama for president in 2012. Welter says she would have high hopes for LGBT rights in a second term.
She says she’d like to see an employment nondiscrimination act, as well as a full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and an act supporting a comprehensive anti-bullying act that protects all students, including gay and transgendered students.
Not everybody is enthused by the president’s outreach to the LGBT community.
“Is everyone excited, jumping up and down? Well, consider the alternative,” says Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Greater Cincinnati treasurer Michael Chanak.
Chanak pointed out how long it took for Obama to get around to embracing gay marriage.
“His position was ‘evolving,’ ” Chanak
says. “Well, a lot of people were kind of cynical about that. I don’t
think it’s going to stop anybody from voting. I think by and large he’ll
get most of the gay vote.”
This story was updated to reflect that Manser's position didn't exist during the previous election, not that it was a first for Obama's political career.