Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback are raising gay marriage as an issue to help paint their challengers as too liberal for GOP-leaning Kansas in the final weeks of tough re-election races.
Both publicly declared their continued support for the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage after U.S. Supreme Court decisions earlier this month suggested it isn’t likely to withstand a legal challenge.
Roberts’ campaign sent a mailing last week to 300,000 voters, criticizing independent candidate Greg Orman, who has said government should not stand in the way of same-sex couples getting married. Orman has been endorsed by the gay-rights group Equality Kansas.
Brownback raised the issue without prompting last week during an interview about his race with Democratic challenger Paul Davis and was a speaker at a Saturday rally for “traditional” marriage. Davis voted as a legislator against proposals to add the gay-marriage ban to the state constitution and has a qualified endorsement from Equality Kansas.
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Raising the issue represents an effort by both GOP incumbents to turn out as many conservative voters as possible in close contests, said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka.
“They’re not out there trying to change anybody’s minds,” Beatty said. “That’s one of those issues that can get their supporters invigorated.”
Voters added the gay-marriage ban to the Kansas Constitution in 2005, with nearly 70 percent of them approving the measure in a statewide election. But federal courts have invalidated similar bans elsewhere, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five states, including Oklahoma and Utah, which are in the same federal appeals-court circuit as Kansas.
A federal district court and the state Supreme Court are considering legal challenges to the Kansas ban.
Orman, an Olathe businessman and co-founder of a private equity firm, and Davis, the Kansas House minority leader, are running as centrists and appealing to GOP moderates and unaffiliated voters. In turn, Roberts and Brownback have portrayed their challengers as liberals.
The Roberts mailing continues his campaign’s efforts to tie Orman to Democratic President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of whom support same-sex marriage. The mailing said Orman opposes “traditional family values” and will “fight to make gay marriage legal – wiping away the sanctity of marriage.”
“That’s further proof that Greg Orman is a liberal Democrat,” said Roberts campaign manager Corry Bliss.
Orman’s campaign sees the mailing as misleading because, while the challenger doesn’t think government should block gay marriage, he expects it ultimately to become legal across the nation through a U.S. Supreme Court decision. He also has said he understands that some churches still would not recognize or perform same-sex marriages.
“This is just another sad, desperate attempt to mislead Kansans about Greg Orman to try to save Sen. Roberts’ job in Washington,” Orman campaign manager Jim Jonas said in a statement.
Similarly, in the governor’s race, Davis said both supporters and opponents of the gay-marriage ban must wait for the courts to rule on its validity. Davis said he opposed adding the ban to the constitution because he was concerned it would damage the state’s “welcoming image” but he also respects the 2005 vote.
“There’s frankly nothing that the governor can do at this point in time,” Davis said. “This issue’s out of the hands of politicians now. It’s going to be decided in the courts.”
Equality Kansas supports Davis based on his legislative voting records on gay-rights issues but said its endorsement is qualified because later actions and statements “call into question the strength of his commitment.”
Brownback touched on gay marriage in suggesting that Davis, after months of attacking Brownback’s policies, still is struggling to define himself for voters and “tell the public where you stand.”
“You can take the same-sex marriage case here in the state. He won’t even stand up and say where he is on that piece,” Brownback said. “I mean, that’s a pretty basic thing. As governor, you need to decide, are you going to defend the state in the litigation or not?”