Just two years ago, almost 62 percent of Ohio voters approved a state amendment prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions.
This is important for understanding the current Senate race in next-door Pennsylvania, where Republican Sen. Rick Santorum faces a formidable challenge from Democratic State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr.
The Ohio vote reflected national political trends in favor of defending traditional values generally and marriage specifically. The same trends could ultimately tip the balance in Pennsylvania's Santorum-Casey contest.
Twenty states in recent years have voted on amendments to ban same-sex marriage. All 20 amendments won. After the 2004 presidential election, an exit poll conducted for the major television networks indicated that when voters were asked which issue -- education, taxes, health care, Iraq, terrorism, economy/jobs or moral values -- was most important in determining their vote, the largest bloc, 22 percent, picked moral values.
Of these, 80 percent voted for Republican President George Bush over Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat. The importance of moral values may have been particularly decisive among Catholics, who historically tended to vote Democratic. Kerry is Catholic, but Bush won 52 percent of the Catholic vote nationwide. In Ohio, sharing the ballot with the marriage amendment, Bush won 65 percent of Catholic votes.
A post-2004 dilemma for Democrats: Find a way to win back "values voters" and stop the erosion of their support among Catholics.
In this year's Pennsylvania Senate race -- in a state that's 31 percent Catholic -- they seemed to find an answer in Bob Casey Jr.
Casey is the son of Pennsylvania's late, beloved Gov. Bob Casey, an Irish Catholic who became a legend among pro-lifers when he was refused a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his opposition to abortion.
Like his father, Casey is a liberal Democrat who is pro-life. That arguably puts him in perfect position to win back those socially conservative Democrats who defected in the past to Santorum, a pro-life Catholic of Italian descent, who (like Casey's father) is well-known for his outspoken traditionalism.
It has been little noticed until now, however, that Casey Jr. has embraced the gay-rights movement, which is bent on changing the nation's marriage and adoption laws -- putting it at odds with the Catholic Church and "values voters."