WASHINGTON -- The economy still may dominate the nation’s to-do list, but a nation divided in its values continues to passionately debate social issues: abortion, birth control and gay marriage.
The nation’s view of gay rights is evolving. After a string of 32 states have voted to ban gay marriage, four more states are poised to vote this fall – Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington – and analysts say one or more could vote in favor of gay marriage.
Many are debating who should pay for contraception, a new issues since President Barack Obama’s administration this year ordered insurance plans to cover contraception, at no cost to women.
And nearly four decades after the Supreme Court legalized abortion, the issue remains unsettled, with proposed restrictions pushing the issue to the forefront once again.
At the top of American politics, Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney hold very different views. Obama is the social liberal, supporting access to abortion without restriction, mandating free contraception for women, and changing his mind this year to endorse gay marriage. Romney is socially conservative, opposing gay marriage and abortion rights, and saying the government should not mandate free contraception.
Here’s where the two major party candidates stand on these major issues:
Obama this year became the first sitting U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage, though he said the matter should be left to the states. The change came in May amid pressure from gay rights activists and some members of his own party, including Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama has supported other gay causes – including repealing the military’s requirement that gay service members keep their sexual preferences secret and offering LGBT workers – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender – family leave, but he had long insisted his views on gay marriage were “evolving.” He said he reached his decision after speaking with his wife, Michelle, and contemplating his religious beliefs.
“When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated,” he told ABC News.
Obama opposes the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage even for couples married under state law. He says the 1996 law that defines marriage as between only one man and one woman is unconstitutional and directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court.
Romney opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions but does not object to benefits for homosexual couples.
Romney would preserve the Defense of Marriage Act and fight for a similar federal constitutional amendment, which could not be altered by individual states.
Nearly two decades ago, Romney vowed to be a better advocate for LGBT equality than his opponent at the time for the Massachusetts Senate seat, Democrat Ted Kennedy, though as governor he backed a failed attempt to amend the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
“Marriage is a status. It’s not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state,” he said at a debate last year. “And a result our marriage status relationship should be constant across the country.”