The vote yesterday to protect same-sex marriage in Massachusetts is likely to embolden gay rights supporters in other liberal-leaning states considering similar policies, political analysts and advocates said.
On the presidential stage, the vote greatly reduces the prospect that gay marriage will be a marquee issue in the 2008 race, allowing Democrats to potentially sidestep the controversial subject, they said.
For Republican contender Mitt Romney, however, the impact of yesterday's development is less clear. Some political observers said it would underscore his failure to defeat gay marriage while he was Massachusetts governor, while others said it would remind conservative primary voters that he fought the good fight against the measure.
But because the vote preserved the status quo on same-sex marriage, it will ultimately do little to alter the overall national political dynamic, said Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University.
"In states that are sympathetic to gay rights, this will be seen as a profile in courage that might encourage them to move in that direction," he said. "But other states will view this as Sodom and Gomorrah taking over."
The issue is largely settled in much of the nation: 27 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit gay marriage, while 17 others have passed laws banning it. But a handful of states -- California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island -- are considering legislation to expand rights for same-sex couples.
Several other states recently rejected such moves narrowly and may soon take the measures up again.
Joe Solmonese -- president of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, which supports gay rights -- said the vote yesterday would encourage efforts supporting same-sex marriage in other states.
"The eyes of the nation were on Massachusetts yesterday," he said. "People see that locusts haven't descended on Massachusetts, nor have [heterosexual] marriages been harmed. The reasons against gay marriage are just floating away."
But Tony Perkins -- head of the Family Research Council, which is opposed to gay marriage -- said any uptick in activity by gay rights groups would be matched by their opponents.
"If anything, this again could create a backlash just as the court decision did," he said, referring to the Supreme Judicial Court ruling in 2003 legalizing same-sex marriage. "Once again, Massachusetts has not allowed the voters to decide."
Matt Daniels -- president of the Alliance for Marriage, an advocacy group that opposes gay marriage -- said the Legislature's decision should alarm and mobilize conservatives.
"As designed, activists from all 50 states will travel to Massachusetts, obtain a marriage license, and sue in federal court to strike down any laws protecting marriage in other states," he said. "It is intended to make sure that Massachusetts gay marriages become the new social norm for America."
Yesterday's decision may benefit the Democratic presidential contenders.
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards oppose Massachusetts-style gay marriage. Yesterday's vote ensures they will not have to take a public stand on any gay marriage ballot measure, which might have put them at odds with liberal primary voters. The issue's lower profile may also deprive their Republican opponents of a wedge issue.
"We've seen that when ballot questions are inserted into presidential campaigns, they can be mischievous," said Bay State political consultant Dan Payne. "It's not something they're going to have to debate now. I doubt it will become a divisive issue."
Yesterday, Romney was the first presidential contender in either party to comment on the Beacon Hill vote, calling it "regrettable."
"Unfortunately, our elected representatives decided that the voice of the people did not need to be heard in this debate," he said in a statement.
Romney reiterated his call for Congress to pass a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which federal lawmakers have refused to do.
The vote yesterday helps Romney, West said. "It gives him credibility in other parts of the country as something other than a Massachusetts politician. It kind of turns him into an outsider in his own home state."
Payne, on the other hand, said the vote would underscore that same-sex marriage happened on Romney's watch.
"He was standing against it and he has nothing to show for it. He failed."
But the largest impact of yesterday's decision may be what it potentially prevented.
If the proposed ban had advanced and Massachusetts voters ended same-sex marriage at the ballot next year, it would have been a monumental setback for the gay rights movement, observers said.
"It would have been huge news," Payne said.
Scott Helman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.