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California high court overturns gay marriage ban

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"[T]here's no question that the Republicans will try to use it, and I think with some voters it may be a powerful issue. But the important thing is that the context has shifted dramatically since 2004," says Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at University of California at Berkeley.

Unlike in 2004, the Republicans face an economic downturn, an unpopular president, and Democrats making gains among voters in party affiliation, says Dr. Cain.

Nationally, 27 percent of Republicans now rank gay marriage as a major issue, according to research by the Pew Center. Since 2005, public opinion on the issue has stabilized, with 55 percent opposed and 36 percent in favor.

"Now the question is whether this brings it back as an issue. The historical pattern suggests there might be some greater visibility, but this has not been a major issue for a few years, so we'll have to wait and see what happens," says Carroll Doherty, associate director at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

An upgrading of the issue might spell trouble for Democrats.

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