Karlyn Bowman, who analyzes public opinion for the American Enterprise Institute, has put together a compilation of the results of media polls on homosexuality. The data series for one question casts some light on the controversy about same-sex sodomy laws: “Do you think that homosexual relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal?” As you’d expect, the trend over time is toward greater support for a live-and-let-live policy. The low point for that policy (in Bowman’s series) comes in a 1986 Gallup poll, which had people favoring prohibition by 57 to 32 percent. The latest result in the series: In a May 2002 poll, people favored making “homosexual relations” legal by 52-43 percent.
I was surprised at how high the support for prohibition still is. The 43 percent figure cuts both ways. It may make Sen. Santorum’s defenders think that his support for sodomy laws does not, by the standards of public opinion, mark him as an “extremist.” But it also suggests that those conservatives who oppose sodomy laws but have not said much about the subject–a group that includes myself–are underestimating the usefulness of speaking up against them.
Bowman tells me that a March 2003 Quinnipiac poll asked if people agreed, “in general,” with the Supreme Court decision “that allowed states to make homosexual relations illegal.” Fifty-seven percent disagreed with the decision, and 38 percent agreed. The polls on the constitutional and the policy question are thus roughly in sync, which is depressing.