The issue of gay marriage seems sure to feature in the 2016 race for governor in Missouri after four same-sex couples were married last week in St. Louis. Their unions set up a challenge to Missouri’s constitutional ban on gay marriage that Democratic Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster must defend.

Missouri State University Department of Political Science head Dr. George E. Connor

Missouri State University Department of Political Science head Dr. George E. Connor

In a statement Koster says he supports “marriage equality,” but has indicated he will defend the state’s laws.

Missouri State University Political Science Department head, professor George E. Connor, says he thinks the situation could come back to hurt Koster more than help him.

“I think Mayor (Francis) Slay’s action really may come back to hurt Attorney General Koster more than help him,” says Connor. “Although we’re talking about years down the road before the general election, it is difficult for me to see a statewide movement towards legalization of gay marriage so much that it would help Attorney General Koster in a statewide bid. Right now I don’t see that.”

AUDIO:  Connor elaborates on whether the gay marriage issue hurts Koster in the 2016 gubernatorial race

Conner says there is evidence that Missouri voters are leaning more conservative now than they did when they enacted a constitutional ban on gay marriage a decade ago. He says that is the product of population shifts as much as ideological shifts.

“The decline in Missouri population is in predominately Democratic areas and the growth in Missouri population is in predominately Republican areas,” says Connor. “I think that puts a Democrat running for statewide office in a pickle, basically.”

AUDIO:  Connor is asked whether it is definitively known where current Missouri voters stand on the issue of same-sex marriage

Connor says no matter what happens in the next two years, Republicans will make an issue of how Koster argues the state’s case.

AUDIO:  Connor on what Republican campaign managers will look for in Koster’s defense of the same-sex marriage ban

The issue is also expected to attract the attention, and the funding, of interest groups from outside Missouri.

“As we have seen in other states where gay marriage has been questioned or challenged, the money begins to pour in from outside interest groups,” says Connor, “So it becomes not an issue being decided by the citizens of Missouri so much as it is decided by the money of outside interest groups and this is going to be true on both sides of the issue.”

Connor says Koster’s statement on the four marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples last week in St. Louis attempts to speak to voters on both sides of the issue, and portions of it will likely be used in campaigns both for and against him.