BY NICHOLAS RICCARDI
DENVER -- It wasn't all that long ago that Republicans used gay marriage as a tool to drive Election Day turnout. But as public opinion on the issue has turned and courts strike down same-sex marriage bans, gay rights is evolving into a wedge issue for Democrats to wield.
Consider Pennsylvania, where Democrats have lambasted Republican Gov. Tom Corbett for comparing gay marriage to incest. Facing a tough re-election campaign, Corbett decided this week not to appeal a federal court ruling striking down the state's ban of gay marriage.
Or Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is hitting his Republican challenger for casting votes that denied gay people protection from discrimination. In Arizona, Democrats plan to hammer Republican legislators who passed a law allowing businesses to refuse to serve gays for religious reasons.
"We're just beginning to see this, and we will see a lot more in the midterms," said Richard Socarides, an activist who was President Clinton's adviser on gay rights. "It will be an incredible shift by the time we get to the (presidential) election in 2016."
That election will arrive 20 years after Republicans in Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. President Bill Clinton signed the bill defensively, worried the GOP would use it as a campaign issue, Socarides said. Republican activists put anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in 11 states in 2004, helping President George W. Bush win re-election with the support of conservative religious voters motivated to turn out to support the bans.