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The Thirty-Six Percent

Jim Burroway

March 19th, 2013

Click to enlarge.

An ABC/Washington Post poll released yesterday (PDF: 194KB/5 pages) shows that support for marriage equality has hit an all-time high:

Support for gay marriage reached a new high in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, marking a dramatic change in public attitudes on the subject across the past decade. Fifty-eight percent of Americans now say it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to wed.

That number has grown sharply in ABC News/Washington Post polls, from a low of 32 percent in a 2004 survey of registered voters, advancing to a narrow majority for the first time only two years ago, and now up again to a significant majority for the first time.

Most Americans, moreover, say the U.S. Constitution should trump state laws on gay marriage, a question now before the U.S. Supreme Court. And – in another fundamental shift – just 24 percent now see homosexuality as a choice, down from 40 percent nearly 20 years ago. It’s a view that closely relates to opinions on the legality of same-sex marriage.

The poll also shows that intensity of opinion has changed a lot in the past decade. But what’s most interesting, I think, is how much of a shift has occurred  in just the past seven months:

On another subject, do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?
  2/22/2004 8/5/2012 3/10/2013
Legal (strongly) 25% 39% 41%
Legal (somewhat) 13% 14% 17%
NET Legal 39% 53% 58%
No opinion 4% 5% 6%
Illegal (somewhat) 6% 11% 6%
Illegal (strongly) 49% 32% 30%
NET Illegal 55% 42% 36%

I think Rob Tisinai is onto something in observing that the recent rush of a few key conservatives who had previously opposed marriage equality to the pro-equality camp represents their last opportunity to be on the right side of history before the door closes for good with the Supreme Court’s upcoming marriage cases. After all, nobody remembers anyone who decided to support mixed race marriages after 1967’s Loving v. Virginia decision. And with the notable exception of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, it’s hard to remember anyone who switched his support for segregation after Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

And yet, switching sides for those who had staked out such a strong position against marriage equality cannot be an easy thing to do, mainly because it means having to admit that you were once wrong. And while a few in the Republican Party are willing to do that, and while the younger generations of Republicans are telling their elders that they most definitely are wrong, it’s only now that the GOP appears to be truly wrestling with how to pivot, but without pivoting. Last January, a panel of “Political Insiders” convened by The National Journal showed that among GOP insiders, 48% said that their party “should avoid the issue” of gay marriage, and only 11% said they should oppose it outright. So when the Republican National Committee released its “autopsy” of the 2012 presidential election, it chose not to address gay issues directly, but noted instead that those issues stand in the way of reaching the voters that the GOP really needs in order to survive:

For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.

…When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming. If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.

That’s hardly the call for the GOP to become more gay friendly that some observers have made it out to be.  But rather, it’s a call to recognize that the GOP’s positions on gay rights are turning off young voters, the demographic that the party really wants to attract. But how the GOP will do that without changing its positions on gay marriage is anybody’s guess. My  guess is magic. Or social media, which is also magic. Or more realistically, as Michelangelo Signorile suggests, the Supreme Court:

It’s been been clear since President Obama came out for marriage equality in May of 2012 that a Democrat could never win the Democratic presidential nomination again without supporting marriage equality. But few of us would have imagined just a few years ago that contenders might be fiercely battling one another over who has done more for gay equality. With mainstream America embracing gay rights, that’s becoming a bigger reality. The GOP’s only hope, it seems, is for the Supreme Court to take the issue off the table entirely. It’s ironic (and grotesque) that the party that has been the most vociferously anti-gay, the party that brutally attacked LGBT people for decades and exploited homophobia for political gain, may be praying that the justices next week begin the process of giving gays full equality.

Comments

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Priya Lynn
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

I’m feeling giddy watching this all unfold. Giggle!

Marci Wyzdyx
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

“support for marriage quality has hit an all-time high:”

I’m also in favor of friends with quality benefits.

MattNYC
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

I also think the “strongly” numbers on both ends are very telling. As doubt creeps in to the antis, the will-power wanes. Remember that these polls often don’t reflect the voting public (see Prop 8, prior Maine votes), but I think the trend lines are important. It will give any Republican in a non-bloody red district pause before they sign on to any anti-equality pledge or statement. And viable national candidates will have to be neutral at best.

matt
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

It’s also ironic that while many Republicans have opposed the concept of “judicial activism”, it may be the case that an act of judicial activism may be what lets the GOP finally move past this issue.

Marco
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

The 25% number of no opinion in 2012 cannot be correct.

Nathaniel
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

I was thinking the same thing, matt. The conservative amici took great pains to argue that providing marriage equality would not be an act of activism, just so that “we don’t want to be activist” wouldn’t be an effective argument against them. Of course, it seems silly to me that some criticize the judiciary for doing exactly what it is supposed to do – protecting citizens from their own or their legislative body’s stupidity. Regardless, a Republican party wanting to hide from ‘the issue’ is better than a Republican party actively trying to hurt us.

Hue-Man
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

“Most Americans, moreover, say the U.S. Constitution should trump state laws on gay marriage, a question now before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Commenters on gay-friendly websites have argued for SCOTUS to go slow on marriage equality and let the states decide individually. I find this position curious; if the Constitution says “equal” how do you ignore that fact (other than the nonsensical “gay men can marry a woman” argument)? My sense is that they’re trading political expediency for throwing over the side lesbians and gays in many states. Is it reasonable to have to wait 150 years for Mississippi to pass equal marriage laws (like slavery repeal)?

Jim Burroway
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

Marco,

You’re right. I fat-fingered that entry. It’s corrected now (5%)

TampaZeke
March 19th, 2013 | LINK

If you notice there has been a seismic shift in rhetoric and strategy that has become obvious over the last few WEEKS. Now the talking point is “yes, it’s inevitable so let’s not rush things with a court order, let’s let the democratic process run its course.

Brian Brown just about a month ago went on a rant begging people to not buy into the “it’s inevitable” argument but just last week her released a statement that pretty much said just the opposite, that it was inevitable so we shouldn’t force it but allow the (once again) “democratic process” to run its course. Of course he just trying to buy time in hopes of regrouping and finding a last ditch scheme to keep his gravy train in operation.

Pay attention to how many times you hear “democratic process” in these discussions and notice how often it’s coming from people and politicians know for their staunchly anti-marriage equality positions.

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