In April, 2009, when we last took a survey of gay marriage polls, we found that support for it had converged somewhere into the area of 41 or 42 percent of the country. Now, it appears to have risen by several points, and as I reported yesterday, it has become increasingly unclear whether opposition to gay marriage still outweighs support for it.
Here is a version of the graph we produced in 2009, but updated to include the dozen or so polls that have been conducted on it since that time, as listed by pollingreport.com. I have also included opinions on gay marriage from the General Social Survey, which asked about gay marriage as long ago as 1988.
Dan Amira at New York Magazine:
For the first time ever, a poll shows that more Americans support the right of gay people to marry than those who oppose it, 52-46, according to CNN. That’s a major milestone in itself, but what’s more, gay-marriage supporters could not ask for a better symbolic representation of America’s changing attitudes than the one in this graph
I know you freaks are dying to comment on the shape of the graph.
It’s only one poll, but it’s clearly part of a multi-decade trend that’s been moving in the right direction at the rate of a little over 1% a year. Until recently that is: in the past three years, polling on this question has improved at the rate of 3-4% a year. And this might end up being the greatest legacy of Vaughn Walker’s decision in the Proposition 8 case. His opinion might not have much influence on the Supreme Court when they end up ruling on the issue, but it probably does have an impact on public opinion. People respond to the opinions of thought leaders and authority figures, and when judges and politicians start speaking out more openly about this, it makes it safer for ordinary citizens to follow suit. Some of that is probably what’s happening here.
What’s also remarkable — though not new — is the huge gender divide on this question: men are obviously far more threatened by the idea of same-sex marriage than women are. Being thought a sissy during childhood is a common and scarring experience for boys, but being thought a butch or a tomboy probably isn’t such a wide or traumatizing experience for girls. In this particular case, men remain far more trapped in their traditional gender roles than women.
Note the distinction. Ask people whether gays should have the right and you get a 52/46 split. Ask them whether gays do have the right — which of course was the point of Walker’s due process and equal protection rulings in the Prop 8 case — and it shrinks to 49/51, which is still a thinner margin than when Gallup polled a similar question just two months ago. It’s hard to draw strong lessons from a three-point swing, which is within the margin of error, but it does point towards the possibility that you’re more likely to build public consensus by taking the incrementalist approach and letting legislatures create rights than having courts divine them from the Constitution.
What backlash? CNN’s latest poll, in the wake of the Walker decision, is easily the most promising to date for those of us in support of marriage rights for all. For the first time, a slim majority of all Americans backs not just marriage, but a constitutional right to marriage for gay couples. A majority, in other words, believes this to be a civil rights issue, which, of course, it is, because civil marriage has long been regarded as a fundamental civil right in American constitutional history. And a majority is in favor! I’m not sure what to make of a small discrepancy in wording – between whether gays already “have” such a right or whether they “should have” – but wouldn’t go so far as Allahpundit in arguing it shows that this process should be driven solely by state legislatures.
I know it’s messy, but surely the fact is that the classic American process is not, and should not be, either judicial tyranny or majority rule over a minority’s rights. It’s an ongoing interaction of the two. Would I prefer a total legislative and democratic victory for marriage equality? You bet I would. At the same time, can anyone gainsay our amazing progress in making the case?
In 1989, the idea was preposterous. But by relentless arguing, debate, litigation and legislative and ballot-box initiatives, we have moved the needle faster than anyone once dreamed of. When a proposition has 50 percent support, you can argue either that there is no need for the courts to act. But you could equally argue that with public support already this high, such a ruling could not meaningfully represent anything approximating “tyranny”. Certainly far less so than when the courts struck down bans on inter-racial marriage which enjoyed very strong popular support at the time, especially in the states where they prevailed.