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Majority support

Timothy Kincaid

May 22nd, 2011

Sunday afternoon musings – those who are not fond of my pontificating may want to pass this one by.

There is something magical about the name Gallup Poll. Gallup may not be the most accurate of all polling agencies, but their duration and history lend an air of credibility, especially when confirming what other polls are finding. So when on Friday the Gallup Poll announced that Americans now support marriage equality by 53% to 45%, it gave an emotional confirmation to what we have already seen from major polling all spring.

Yes, a majority of all Americans now believe that same-sex couples should have the legal rights to marriage.

But what does that mean?

Let’s start with what it does not mean. This does not mean that a majority of Americans personally approve of same-sex marriage. Legal acceptance and approval do not necessarily go hand in hand. Nor does it mean that we will from henceforth win all of our battles in either the legislature or in the ballot box. Anti-gay campaigns have proven successful at appealing to fear and – for at least a while – changing public attitude.

But it does mean that we will win. It means that the tipping point, that distinct moment at which change ceases to move at its previous trajectory and suddenly accelerates, has been reached.

And if we look at Nate Silver’s graphic of public opinion on marriage, I think that we can see something interesting.

If we look at the way in which public opinion has been going, we see – other than a bump leading into the 2004 elections – a fairly consistent rate of change. But around the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, something happened. Something changed the scale such that the rate of increase in support and rate of decrease in opposition sped up dramatically.

Why did this happen?

I think I know why. I don’t have evidence for this conjecture, and history may prove me wrong, but I believe that a single international moment occurred which changed the way in which marriage equality was viewed both within and without the gay community: Proposition 8.

When Californians voted to ban marriage in our state, it caught the world by surprise. And, unlike marriage bans in Arkansas or Texas, this seemed personal. It seemed a deliberate insult.

Also unlike Arkansas or Texas bans, it pissed us off enough to protest. Publicly in the streets. In San Francisco and San Diego and Los Angeles. But also in Chicago and Detroit and New York and Omaha and Salt Lake City and Wichita and Marquette and Sault Ste Marie. Even in London and Paris and Amsterdam.

This was an unexpected response. Those who oppose marriage didn’t expect it, the voters didn’t expect it.

And we didn’t expect it. But something about the moment of this vote and this time in this state caught our collective discontent and channeled it around a singular event. Losing proposition 8 changed us as a community, for the first time we truly began to believe – all of us, not just the activists but club kids and conservative couples and militant queers and feminist lesbians – that marriage was a right to which we are entitled and which is worth fighting for.

And, just as importantly, it showed those around us that we truly care. It ceased being a matter over which we could politely disagree and became a position which defined friendship and family and faith.

And as a consequence, those around us changed. Reluctant and hesitant and fearful people decided that if they had to choose between tradition and those they love (and, yes, now they have to choose), they would give up tradition.

So where does it go from here?

I think that from now on – for a while, at least – we are going to see ever-increasing support until only the die-hards will still oppose civil marriage. Those who currently say “no” to pollsters will increasingly feel reluctant to be out of the mainstream and will respond the way that “everyone agrees”. The Aunt Thelma’s of the world will not only find that they do think that it’s time to let Sue’s kid (he’s such a fine young man) and his partner marry, but that they are rather proud of how modern and current they are.

And this will be followed – at a few years distance – by legislative change. Politicians are followers, not leaders, so they will not be ahead of the people on this issue.

But when the Minnesota Marriage Ban Amendment fails in 2012, as I predict that it will, this will be the end of calls by anti-gay activists to “let the people vote”. And if the Supreme Court has not invalidated such bans by then, we will see initiative efforts to reverse the anti-gay bans in states like Oregon, California, and Nevada.

None of which means that we can rest on our laurels or quit the fight. As they lose, anti-gays will mount ever shriller campaigns and they may get rather painful and the South will cross the line to full equality only after dragging its feet, kicking and screaming. But while there are still battles to go, we have won the war.

Comments

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ZRAinSWVA
May 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Timothy,

Your musings are greatly appreciated.

I must admit, the video you posted regarding the speech by John Kriesel was telling, no? With advocates like him (and the many others!) coming forward, I am more hopeful than ever.

enough already
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

I hope you’re right.

My experience in Europe was that, indeed, once a point in the curve is reached as here, the opportunity to seize the moment is at hand.

And this is our danger.

As the US began to recover from the civil war, women were told they would just have to wait a little bit and they’d get their turn soon.

Tides turned and “soon” became another three generations.

Let us become complacent – and that is our greatest risk – and we will lose.

This is how it will go down:

Obama will lose in 2012 because too many of “our” supporters don’t feel strongly enough about civil rights to actually get out and vote.
We saw this in Prop. 8, we saw this in 2010, we will see it in 2012.

The Teapublican president will – oh, on or about the 22 or 23 of January, 2013 be “saddened” to receive the resignation of Justice Kennedy. He’s wanted out for years now, has only held on because he only looks like a liberal in comparison to the other conservatives on the bench. He’s a solid Republican.

At least one, if not two of our Justices will resign or, given their ages, worse.

And that will be that.

Game over.

We’re dead in the water and sunk for the next few generations.

It is statistically all but certain that the president elected in 2012 will appoint at least two and quite possible – and sadly so – three Supreme Court Justices.

It not only can happen this way, it will happen this way unless enough of us actually bother to vote. Unless we stop fighting every successful attack by our enemies with the same useless advertising.
Unless we firmly address the black and Hispanic and Latino, etc. communities.

We may have the support of rational people. Their votes (and our votes!) are by no means assured.

In fact, given the old saw that Republicans always vote, Democrats only vote when the Democratic candidate also happens to be their personal favorite isn’t just a saw.

It’s bitter reality.

Matt
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Couple thoughts:

1) When pollsters include the option “Do you support civil unions?” along with gay marriage or no legal recognition, support for marriage drops precipitously, often into the 30s.

2) The poll suggested that views among Republicans have not changed at all since last year. So now we just have to wait until Democrats capture all the branches of government to get marriage equality — because that worked out so well last time, right? (Never mind the fact that such uniform Democratic control of government is, statistically speaking, highly unlikely to happen again for a long time).

3) Pretty much everyone on the side of gay marriage loves this “it’s inevitable” argument. I’m not sure why everyone’s so convinced that it’s a winner. It’s a weak argument, not based in the specific good or goods of the change being proposed, and it’s also a passive argument, one that says, “Why resist?” At its worst, it reflects a naive “The arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice” antihistorical feel-goody sensibility. Some Black Americans undoubtedly thought, during Reconstruction, that “it was inevitable” they would enjoy equality, but the federal government sold them out, and we got Jim Crow for decades. Similarly, Weimar-era gays in Germany probably thought things were looking better and better.

I don’t object to people being happy to see positive changes in polls, but the “it’s inevitable!” self-congratulatory thing is a dangerous trap to fall into. Let’s base our arguments and approach on the actual positive goods of marriage and its specific effects on human beings.

BlackDog
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Personally, Enough Already, I think the chances of an actual “Tea Party” republican getting elected are pretty slim. Really, the Republican cantidates so far are mostly pretty weak and/or have too much baggage…Newt Gingrich for example. Some of the stronger Tea Pary backed contenders…Sarah Palin for example…are simply idiots. Mitt Romney seems to be the strongest contender so far from what I can tell, but I doubt a lot of the religious nuts would vote for a Mormon.

That said, assuming is re-elected he hasn’t exactly been a major advocate for GLBT people…many of his campaign promises actually were fulfilled by the Log Cabin Republicans or other relatively sane conservative groups.

I think the real danger is that the Republicans will lose…because of insanely far-right policies they’ve been pushing AND a lack of progress on the economy…which was supposed to be their “big issue.” I know here in Michigan people are very unhappy with the Republican governor’s performance so far…because he hasn’t done anything other than attack education.

My fear is that the Democrats will win massively, and then lose the incentive to do much of anything because they won’t face any serious consequences for not doing it. Then a lot of middle-of-the-road policies, some of which hurt more in the long term than they help (think DADT) will be passed, like (instead of marriage) here’s National Civil Unions instead.

Different way of getting there, but the results are still the same, game over AND ya’ll are still on the hook having to support the Dems because the Reps will just keep doubling down on the crazy until only religious nuts vote for them.

BlackDog
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

oops that’s “Assuming Obama is re-elected”

Ezam
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Man, wouldn’t it be great that Scalia and/or Thomas di…I mean left the Supreme Court before what “enough already” said happened?

Priya Lynn
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Timothy said “Politicians are followers, not leaders, so they will not be ahead of the people on this issue.”.

Not true, for Republicans anyway. The vast majority of Americans (70% if I remember correctly) support raising taxes on the rich and ending subsidies to the oil companies yet the Republicans have lockstep voted to continue subsidies to the oil companies and against raising taxes on the rich. Long after the public polling shows majority support for equal marriage Republicans will be voting against it.

R Boyer
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Hmmmm . . . a single international event, Prop 8? And the attendant public protests (Queer Rising and all those impolitic, demanding sorts)>

If you’re speaking of the Prop 8 trials, then the sudden shift, which seems to have happened in the latter part of 2010, might be tied to those. (By “shift” I refer to the moment when positive and negative views intersected and the numbers began to weigh in favor of the LGBT view.) But Prop 8 (the vote) happened in 2008.

Perhaps this might be tied to a series of events which began as long ago as 2007, but were widely noted starting in in the latter half of 2010. They were international in scope, including Canada and the UK, but most were in America.

From September 2010 onward (if one were counting only from that point, and including only US data):
Billy Lucas, Cody Barker, Tyler Clementi, Justin (Chloe) Lacey, Harrison Chase Brown, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Felix Sacco, Caleb Nolt, Zach Harrington, Aiyisha Hassan, Terrel Williams, Corey Jackson, Brandon Bitner, Lance Lundsten, Kameron Jacobsen, Nicholas Kelo, Jr., and Adam Wood.

Bruno
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

That’s a very rosy outlook…poll results like that will do that I guess. But I’m not quite in the same boat yet. 53% in these polls usually reflects a lot of younger people and others who don’t vote at the ballot box. In a slightly left-leaning state like Minnesota, I still don’t see us winning in 2012, especially when the legislation doesn’t amendment-level ban civil unions. The one poll from the Star Tribune looked good, but I just don’t see that holding up after a protracted, bitter advertisement battle which will scare enough people against us. Again.

If the tide were truly turning for good, we’d have seen easy wins for marriage this year in Maryland, Rhode Island, and New York. The first 2 are dead in the water and the last is almost dead. I still think things could start going in the wrong direction again very easily.

This is all conjecture, the more pessimistic kind, but I hope it all happens the way Timothy lays it out.

Shofixti
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Wow, I would have though Will & Grace would have shown up on that Silver’s graph – but the slowest rate of change was around when it started in ’98.

Richard Rush
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

To those of you who are despairing: Stop it! (But don’t stop fighting.)

You need to be reminded to look at where we are today in the context of where we’ve been. Here are two documentary films to help you do that:

Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives. Netflix description: “First released in 1977, this landmark documentary chronicles the experiences of some two dozen gay and lesbian Americans living throughout the country during the early days of the gay rights movement. Directed by a coalition of gay and lesbian filmmakers, the movie features interviews with poet Elsa Gidlow, activist Harry Hay and others who reflect candidly on growing up in a country that was still deeply and almost uniformly anti-gay.”

PBS’ American Experience: Stonewall Uprising. Netflix description: “Through eyewitness interviews and archival footage, documentary filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner recapture a pivotal moment in time that mobilized a generation of gay activists and marked the dawn of the modern Gay Rights Movement. Much like Rosa Parks’s symbolic refusal to move to the back of the bus, gay bar patrons’ refusal to comply with a police raid at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn in 1969 would change the course of history.” This aired very recently on PBS. I seem to recall seeing a much earlier film about this, but I can’t think of the title.

The question now is not if we will win full equality, but exactly when.

I’ve been living as a gay person literally since the summer of Stonewall. When I remind myself where we were in 1969, it is utterly astonishing to see the-line-in-the-sand now drawn at marriage. We are absolutely way beyond the tipping point in terms of gay rights in general. There is no going back.

Stefan
May 23rd, 2011 | LINK

The setbacks in Rhode Island, Maryland, and possibly New York are not due to public opinion halting Bruno, but to temporary increases of Republicans in office due to the Tea Party fad, which will be reversed in 2012. Rhode Island will pass civil unions and the Maryland assembly may very well still pass marriage equality next year, while there is still time in New York, where Cuomo has begun directly lobbying senators who are on the fence, so all is not lost yet.

As far as Minnesota, remember too that we have a year and a half of demographics to shift in our favor in the meantime as well, and unlike California or Maine, a blank vote on the question counts as a No, which will immediatly benefit our side by at least 1%.

Reed Boyer
May 24th, 2011 | LINK

@ Richard Rush – you might be thinking of “Before Stonewall,” a very good documentary. Amazon description (partial):

“Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (1985)is a documentary about evolution, namely the evolution of gay culture in the U.S. from the early 1920s to the Stonewall riot of 1969. Embellished with archival footage and photography from five decades, the film most prominently features the gay underground of the ’20s and ’30s, the rise of gay service in the military and workforce during WWII, the persecution of gays as “subversives” and “sexual perverts” in the state department by Senator McCarthy, the growth of the first grassroots political organizations for gay men and lesbians in the ’50s, and of course, the civil rights movement. Commentary is provided by the gay men and lesbians who came of age in the years leading up to Stonewall.”

Bruno
May 24th, 2011 | LINK

@Stefan: “Which will be reversed in 2012″…you’re sure about that, huh? I’m not.

Besides, it’s common knowledge that the bill in Rhode Island failed due to the DEMOCRATIC leader in their Senate, Theresa Paiva Weed. She is deadset against marriage equality, and I think she’ll have to be voted out before anything changes there. In Maryland, polling was not so favorable…only 46% or so in one poll favored marriage equality, much lower than the 53% in this nationwide poll. And New York, well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Even if more people in Minnesota favor marriage equality by next year, I don’t think they’ll comprise enough of the voting public to offset the legions of churchgoers commanded by their leaders to double-down on discrimination in that state, but we’ll see about that too.

Richard Rush
May 24th, 2011 | LINK

Reed,

Thanks for the tip about “Before Stonewall!” I just added it to our Netflix queue. I’m not sure if that’s the film I was referring to, but if we saw it, it must have been in a theater back in 1985. My partner has a much better memory than me, so he will know. He can’t understand how I can completely forget seeing particular films, while he remembers details. However, I remember completely useless stuff, like the specific seats where we sat in a restaurant ten years ago.

Theo
May 24th, 2011 | LINK

Great post, Timothy. I agree with your main point that Prop 8 was the tipping point. However, I think a close contender would be the enactment of SSM in 4 states between December 2008 and May 2009. It is one thing to have a single, liberal state get SSM via a divided court. It is another thing to have 5 states simultaneously recognizing SSM, including 3 w/ legislative approval. When 5 states have a particular public policy, it is no longer beyond the pale to imagine your state doing the same.

The only thing in the post that I think is wrong is your assertion that lying to pollsters will increase. I read a study on this very issue recently (which I can find if you are interested) and the conclusion was that the “drift” or “Bradley effect” in polling on this issue has been decreasing.

Theo
May 24th, 2011 | LINK

@Matt:

Great comments. On point number 1, yes, support for SSM goes down when 3 options are presented, but so does the number for “no recognition whatsoever”. For a while, it was something like 25/35/40, then 33/33/33, and now it is generally 40/35/25, give or take. I really think pollsters need to ask both the 3-option and the 2-option questions, since you want to know how those civil union supporters would break if only give 2 options.

I totally agree with you on the “inevitability” mantra. It definitely has a useful role to play, as evidenced by NOM’s constant, frantic efforts to rebut it. But it is not an argument on the merits and it shouldn’t be used to give any of us comfort. Even if the mantra is right, the “inevitable” can be held off for many years and decades. What good will it do any of us if the “inevitable” victory arrives in 2075?

Look at DADT repeal. A little GOP maneuvering and a ticking clock easily could have thwarted it and in that case, DADT would have survived another 10-15 years.

Timothy Kincaid
May 25th, 2011 | LINK

Theo,

Good point about the five states.

And, to clarify, I don’t think so much that people will lie as much as they will find that their views migrate to be consistent with those that are socially acceptable.

Aunt Thelma won’t lie to the polls, she’ll just find herself in agreement with what Charlie (“and he’s a doctor”) explained to her and, low and behold, Bessie and Gertie do too. In fact, half the ladies at bingo agree. So there ya have it.

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