ABC has supposedly found that while a majority of Americans reject gay marriage, they also reject a constitutional amendment to ban it. Now it would not surprise me if the public were to reject an amendment as a radical step. I was surprised when the New York Times, last month, found 55 percent support for an amendment. But ABC’s polling is seriously misleading.
They find 58 percent opposition to the amendment, and 38 percent support, when the alternative of letting each state decide is presented. That’s a noteworthy result. It tells us, for one thing, which argument opponents of an amendment are likely to find most effective. But to frame the alternatives in this way is not to ask a neutral question. It is to take sides in the debate. FMA proponents, for the most part, say that the whole reason an amendment is required is that a state-by-state approach is not a real-world alternative. Presumably the answer would come out differently if the alternative to FMA was the national imposition of gay marriage by the federal and state judiciaries. According to FMA proponents, that’s what the alternative is.
ABC says that the results depend on the wording of the question and presents some other polling organization’s wording and results. But it makes it sound as though its question is superior–since it has given information about the alternatives, unlike the Times–and doesn’t even hint at the existence of the problem I just described. ABC also cites a Pew Center poll, just as misleading, that frames the alternatives as an amendment and a non-constitutional prohibition on gay marriage. On the stated argument of the FMAers, mere statutes will not survive a campaign of judicial activism–and that’s why their preferred constitutional amendment is needed.