After a year and a half of intensive public debate on gay marriage, how are we doing?
First, the good news.
The more Americans hear about gay marriage, the less we like it.
The Gallup poll asks the question this way: “Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages? “
In June 2003, according to Gallup, Americans opposed gay marriage 55 percent to 39 percent. By March 2005, the margin of opposition had swelled to 68 percent v. 28 percent in favor.
A new iMAPP policy brief, “Same-Sex Marriage: Recent Trends in Public Opinion” (available at www.marriagedebate.com), identifies all polling firms that had asked the same question on gay marriage at least twice since 2003. Polls that use slightly different wordings produce slightly different results, but the overall trend is the same. For example:
‐The ABC News/Washington Post poll (“Do you think it should be legal or illegal for homosexual couples to get married?”) found that in September 2003, Americans opposed gay marriage 55 percent to 37 percent. In the August 2004 poll opposition had climbed to 62 percent opposed to 32 percent in favor of SSM.
‐The Quinnipiac poll asks, “Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married?” In December 2003, Americans opposed gay marriage 60 percent v. 35 percent. By December 2004, American’s opposition to SSM had climbed to 65 percent v. 31 percent.
‐???The Pew poll, which asks “Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?,” showed Americans’ opposition to SSM climbing from 53 percent v. 38 percent in July 2003, to 60 percent v. 29 percent in the latest August of 2004 survey.
The most striking (and underreported) results are those of the 2004 UCLA freshman poll released earlier this year, which surveys 290,000 college freshman. Between 2003 and 2004 the proportion of college freshman who support gay marriage dropped almost three percentage points, from 59.4 percent to 56.7 percent. This is the first recorded drop in support for same-sex marriage among college freshman since the question was first asked in 1997. Whether this is just a blip in a long-term trend towards increasing support of gay marriage among educated young adults, or the beginning of a marriage turnaround on the issue, remains to be seen. Certainly the national debate has newly exposed more young people to argument against and concern about gay marriage by adults they care for and respect, from parents to pastors.
As opposition to same-sex marriage has grown, so has support for a constitutional amendment on marriage. Gallup asks, “Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus barring marriages between gay or lesbian couples? In February 2004, Americans favored a marriage amendment but only narrowly, 49 percent in favor to 46 percent opposed. By March 2005, Americans support for a constitutional amendment climbed to 57 percent in favor to 37 percent opposed. Levels of support for a constitutional amendment vary considerably based on alternate wording (surveys that ask whether voters want a constitutional amendment to “ban same-sex marriage” poll particularly badly). But it appears likely that the success of state constitutional marriage amendment (18 states have passed such constitutional amendments defining marriage) may be raising the public comfort level with the idea of “the constitutional option” for marriage.
Those of us who remember how many good and smart people despaired about this issue, when it first arose in the summer of 2003, have reason to rejoice. Pat yourself on the back once. Maybe twice.
And then get back to work. The not-so-good news: Two years from now, one-third of the country is likely to be living with gay marriage. Pending court decisions in California, Washington state, New Jersey (along with Massachusetts) are likely to produce a fragmented marriage system despite overwhelming public opposition. And other states, like New York, are taking a different route: forbidding the performance of gay marriages in-state, but recognizing gay marriages performed in nearby Massachusetts or Canada. Meanwhile the Marriage Protection Amendment appears stalled in the Senate. It’s not now the particular wording that is holding up action, it’s the reality that to get to 67 votes, you need substantial support among Democrats, support that is not currently there, and which neither Senate GOP leaders, nor the President of the United States can produce.
Republicans who want to use this issue merely for partisan gain will be happy with this stalemate. Those of us who see protecting marriage as an essential can’t-lose issue need to do one big thing: Convince Democrats as well as Republicans that Americans really do care about this issue. Translation: Knock off a couple of senators on this issue in 2006. Right now the movement to protect marriage has lots of ministries, fabulous public support, and almost no PAC money. This has to change.
Marriage ought to be a nonpartisan issue. The fate of our most basic social institution for protecting children should not depend on who wins the next election. Now is the limited window of opportunity to convince both parties they need to make this obvious moral truth a political reality on the ground.
– Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.