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No  matter what they tell you about their high-minded ideals and commitment to public service, little matters more to politicians  than getting re-elected.  A new study, released today by Freedom to Marry (the gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide) is very important to state officeholders everywhere.

Contrary to some political expectations, voting to support the freedom to marry and opposing anti-marriage measures helps rather than hurts politicians, a new study unequivocally shows.  

The study includes votes in state houses in 21 states, in all four regions of the United States.  Votes for marriage equality and votes to discriminate against same-sex couples and their children were included in this groundbreaking study that your state representative should know about:

A review of all of these votes from 2005 to the present shows that legislators who vote to end marriage discrimination for same-sex couples are consistently re-elected. The success of more than 1,100 state legislators who voted to support the freedom to marry stands in bold contrast to the commonly held belief that supporting marriage equality ends political campaigns and careers.

In fact, these legislators are re-elected no matter what party they represent or if they changed their vote from opposing to supporting marriage equality. Even better, legislators who run for higher office win after voting in favor of marriage for same-sex couples.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, calls this a leadership test. I call it a political survival test.

“For politicians, standing up for marriage equality is not touching a third-rail, rather, it is a track to re-election – and, happily, the path toward inclusion that America is traveling.”

Next time your state legislator demurs when asked about marriage equality, saying he or she doesn’t think voters will re-elect after a pro-equality vote, please point to this study (pdf here). Remind your representative that while s/he is not alone in being worried about re-election (hah!) s/he has lots of company. Here’s Rep. Teresa R Sayward, GOP-North Country, NY:

“The night I took the vote in June, I was told I would never be elected again. I’m running unopposed.”

Voters never punish legislators for their pro-equality votes.  They reward these votes: 

– After marriage equality votes in California, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, 100% of the legislators who voted for marriage equality (499 officeholders!) were re-elected after their pro-marriage-equality votes.

– Flip-flops are okay too!  100% of the Massachusetts officeholders whose position evolved to favor marriage equality were re-elected.

– In 2008, 100% of the legislators who voted to eliminate marriage discrimination in the lower house who sought a seat in the state senate won.

This includes 8 new state senators in California and Massachusetts. In addition, in 2007 special elections, legislators won both a state senate seat and a U.S. House of Representatives seat after voting to support marriage equality from the lower house; these two legislators went on to win re-election to these higher offices in the 2008 election.

– More broadly, across 17 states since 2005, not one of 664 legislators who voted against any number of marriage discrimination amendments lost re-election.

Even in Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, where discriminatory amendments were approved by the legislature and the electorate, not one legislator who opposed the amendment and ran for re-election was defeated.  In Iowa, where an anti-LGBT amendment died in the state senate, only one legislator who opposed it lost; marriage equality was not an issue in the campaign.

Legislators really want to get re-elected.  They are loathe to cast a vote that will hurt their chances of re-election.  State legislators need to understand that far from being a "third rail," marriage equality is the wave of the future, and their future re-election favors a favorable vote.