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Bipartisan Pollsters Find Rapid Increase In Support for Marriage Equality

Jim Burroway

July 29th, 2011

Over the past year or so, we have had several polls showing increased support for marriage equality. While we know the trend has been in our favor for quite some time, it’s been hard to take some of these polls seriously. Many of us remember all too well the polls showing Prop 8 going down in defeat, only to wake up on the day following election day to see the equal rights of millions of Californians stripped from them.

Today, Freedom to Marry had announced that two leading pollsters, one Republican and the other Democrat, have reviewed the polling data over the past fifteen years and have seen a very notable shift in support over the past two years specifically. According to their study (PDF: 136KB/4 pages), that increased support in the past two years has been across the board, including among older Americans and Republicans.

This isn’t a new poll, but rather an analysis of other polls which have already been published, including Gallup, Quinnipiac University, Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), CNN/Opinion Research Corp (CNN/ORC), ABC News/Washington Post, and Pew Research Center.

This study confirms what Rob Tisinai noticed a few weeks ago by looking at the ABC/WaPo poll alone. Rob noticed that “For the most part, older people are more supportive of marriage equality in 2011 than younger people were in 2005.” And that increase in support among older Americans cannot be explained by older people dying off alone. His analysis is worth revisiting here. The authors of the Freedom To Marry study agree:

Ultimately, things are changing very quickly because support levels are up in all age and party categories. This allows one to conclude that many adults are rethinking their position, and it is taking place at all age levels and among all partisans, including older Americans and Republicans. Attitudes are changing at a slower pace among older adults and conservatives, but they’re changing.

More encouragingly, they notice that “the intensity of opinion is changing at a rapid pace. As of today, supporters of marriage for gay couples feel as strongly about the issue as opponents do, something that was not the case in the recent past.”

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Richard Rush
July 29th, 2011 | LINK

Leave it to me to find a troubling aspect in these favorable polling results:

They seem to illustrate that, ultimately, the only way to end tyranny by the majority against an unpopular minority is for that unpopular minority to become popular.

And the US Constitution doesn’t really matter all that much. The Supreme Court has often shown they won’t decide in favor of expanding rights until a significant level of popularity, or at least public acceptance, has been achieved.

Timothy Kincaid
July 29th, 2011 | LINK

This confirms something that we have been noticing for a while. In April 2009 we noted that the rate of change in support for marriage equality had taken a sharp uptick and began considering if a tipping point had been reached.

By May of this year it appeared that this uptick was not an anomaly and I speculated on a cultural shift and what may have been its triggering event.

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.

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.

T.J.
July 30th, 2011 | LINK

I would be interested to see these poll questions expanded to questions about the perceived morality of gay relationships and gay marriage. The reason I state this is that I’ve done a lot of research in my masters and doctorate degrees in psychology that shows that though there is a shift in support for equal rights, there is not as great a shift in people’s personal beliefs about the morality of our life choices. While I think the American cultural belief in equality for all people is a large reason for the shift in public sentiment, I don’t think we can end our efforts at convincing the public that our relationships and love are MORAL and not just entitled to legal protection. This is necessary to reduce prejudice, discrimination, and violence against our community which will remain a serious problem if all we win is the legal and political debate. Hopefully, gay marriages will be public enough in the lives of ordinary Americans and more folks in our community will come out and demonstrate that we are good people who love each other, our families, and our nation. This will go a long way toward achieving this end.

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