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Gay rights advocates hope for unlikely message from Obama

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Jobs and the economy are the focus of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday evening, but many Americans are hoping he'll also address a topic that the White House has given no indication is on the agenda: same-sex marriage.

That's the picture that emerges from a computer-assisted analysis by msnbc.com of nearly 19,000 social media postings from all 50 states since Sunday.

NBC's Chuck Todd, 'Meet the Press' moderator David Gregory and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell preview the president's address.

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The analysis indicates that the economy in general is the No. 1 issue on Americans' minds, just as it is on the president's. Since Sunday, roughly two-fifths of people expressing some opinion or expectation about the address did so in the context of jobs, "economic fairness" or taxes. But about a quarter are anticipating the address in terms of what Obama might say about same-sex marriage, according to the analysis.

Msnbc.com conducted the analysis by examining 18,737 Twitter and Facebook posts about the State of the Union from 12:01 a.m. ET Sunday to 5 p.m. ET Tuesday. The analysis uses a tool called ForSight, a data platform developed by Crimson Hexagon Inc., which is used by many media and research organizations to gauge public opinion in new media, among them the Pew Research Center, ESPN and Microsoft Corp.

The results are not a scientific reflection of broad national opinion. Instead, they're a glimpse through a three-day window into some of what is being said by Americans who follow politics and are active on Facebook, Twitter or both.

And among that group, advocates for legalization of same-sex marriage have been busy.

Five main talking points
Five topics emerged as the most popular in msnbc.com's analysis of posts that raised questions or expressed opinions about what Obama might say Tuesday night. Two economic issues — "jobs and the economy" and "economic fairness and taxes" — each drew the attention of about 20 percent of the sample, making the economy in general the leading broad concern.

"Congressional inaction and obstruction" also drew the attention of about 20 percent, while about 15 percent discussed climate change and the environment.

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But about 25 percent of the sample — the largest representation for any of the five top individual issues — asked or urged Obama to address "same-sex marriage," "gay marriage" or "marriage equality," the term preferred by activists.

"President Obama's State of the Union address will be on tomorrow night," and "I am curious to what my friends think we can expect from him," Michael LeFleur of West Oakland, Calif., noted Monday on Facebook.

"I think that we need to back whatever person we think can beat the Republicans," LeFleur wrote. "If we split those votes, we run the risk of ending up with a Republican president and I think that is just the worst thing that can happen because of the Republican attitude toward gay marriage and medical marijuana. The gay rights movement would definitely take a big hit and our country would be taking a step backwards in the area of human rights."

Obama unlikely to cooperate
The prominence of same-sex marriage is unexpected, because the White House has been clear in the walkup to Tuesday night's address that the president will focus on the economy and jobs. The topic isn't mentioned in any of the advance excerpts of his speech that were released Tuesday or in talking points distributed to Obama supporters.

The discussion appears to have been fueled by comments by White House press secretary Jay Carney, who was asked Friday whether Obama would talk about same-sex marriage.

Carney said he wouldn't "rule anything in or out," leading The Blade, a Washington newspaper devoted to gay and lesbian issues, to publish a story Saturday headlined "Will Obama endorse marriage equality in SOTU?"

Many of the social media posts refer to or link to that article, like this tweet from Justin Sherwood, a poet from New York:


Not all of the posts reflected support for same-sex marriage. A small minority expressed the hope that Obama would endorse the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Some of those posts linked to or quoted from a column by talk radio host Larry Elder, who wrote last week: "If one rejects society's consensus that, until now, confined marriage to a man and a woman, why limit a marriage to but one spouse? What argument prevents someone from declaring his undying love for three people and insists that the law permit him to marry all three?"

In the past, Obama has said he didn't support same-sex marriage but that his views could "evolve" — a statement that Carney pointed to in his remarks Friday.

While Obama isn't expected to complete that evolution in Tuesday night's address, "if the president of the United States were to announce support for marriage equality, his words would serve as a catalyst for millions of conversations," Josh Friedes of Equal Rights Washington, which is advocating for a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State, told The Blade.

Should that happen, Friedes said, "it's on us to use the event as an opportunity to share our personal stories," because it "could open the hearts of many people to reevaluate their own positions."

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