WEST HOLLYWOOD, California (Reuters) - Gay voters, disappointed with President Barack Obama's failure to do away with a ban on gays in the military, have pared back funding for Democrats in the midterm elections but are unlikely to abandon them at the polls on Tuesday.
One of the most vocal and affluent groups of the Democratic base, gay voters say they have received nothing in return for decades of loyalty to the party, even after two years of Democratic leadership in both the White House and Congress.
"We voted for Democrats. We gave them the House and the Senate, and what did we get?" said John Aravosis, editor of the left-leaning blog AMERICAblog.
Disillusionment in the gay community with both Obama and his party is palpable. Obama, who received strong support from gays in his 2008 election, says he supports ending the ban on gays openly serving in the military. But his administration is now challenging attempts by a federal judge to impose an end to the ban, saying it is up to Congress, not the courts.
In addition to scrapping the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" ban, gay voters had hoped Democrats would use their power to pass a law that would make it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and to repeal a 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
With none of those goals accomplished, gay rights group GetEQUAL last month began urging gays to withhold donations to the Democratic National Committee and other party groups. AMERICAblog has a similar initiative.
Those activists hope to send a message to Democrats who depend on gay voters' wallets even more than their votes.
"At the national level, there are just not enough gays and lesbians to be politically powerful" except in very close races, Stanford University Professor Gary Segura said.
"The role that gays and lesbians have played is more of a financial one," he added.
Polls show public discontent with Obama and the ailing U.S. economy is likely to help Republicans win back control of the House of Representatives and cut into Democrats' Senate majority in Tuesday's elections.
RESENTMENT OVER 'GAY ATM'
Donations to federal candidates from gay interest groups have taken a hit this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Gay groups have donated $849,410 to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle, down from $1.8 million in 2008 and $2 million in 2006.
Despite that decline, however, gay Democratic groups said gay voters are engaged and mobilized this year.
This week, for instance, Stonewall Democratic Club in Los Angeles said that with just 24 hours notice, it attracted 90 volunteers to a Wednesday afternoon phone bank for incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.
"There has been some despondency, but folks have really come around," Stonewall president John Cleary said.
As for the drop in donations, it is the economy, rather than voter disappointment, that is mostly to blame, said Andy Szekeres, a political consultant who specializes in gay rights ballot measures. Nevertheless, he said, political donors in the gay community feel they have been treated like a "gay ATM" by the Democratic party.
Many gay activists worry that telling gays to stop donating to Democrats is akin to asking them to sit out the election.
"The message that people deliver when they say that we shouldn't contribute to Democrats in particular is a little bit dangerous," said Rick Jacobs, founder of community organizing group the Courage Campaign.
"There is no way" that a Congress dominated by Republicans will be better for gays than a Democratic-led one, he said.
At a coffee shop in the gay-friendly city of West Hollywood, attorney Ricardo Gomez, 55, echoed that sentiment, saying he voted absentee for Boxer, whom he does not care for, because he thinks her rival, Republican Carly Fiorina, would be worse on gay issues.
"I'm a pragmatic voter," Gomez said. "I hold my nose, but I always vote."