Last Throes of a Bitter Battle?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Last Throes of a Bitter Battle?

Despite the bitter battles over same-sex marriage in the last few years, public opinion is still shifting. Guess who is on the losing side?

These latest findings from Pew Research Center surprised even me.
Currently, 51% oppose legalizing gay marriage, down from a recent high of 63% just two years ago in February of 2004. The percent who favor allowing gay marriage has increased from a low of 29% in August of that year to 39% today.
The turnaround over the past two years is particularly distinct in the change among those who say they "strongly oppose" legalizing gay marriage. Just 28% take this position today, down from 42% in February of 2004, and the decline has been sharpest among seniors, Republicans and more moderate religious groups. Fully 58% of Americans age 65 and older strongly opposed gay marriage in 2004; only 33% are strongly opposed now. Two years ago 59% of Republicans strongly opposed gay marriage, while just 41% take this position today. And both white Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants are half as likely to strongly oppose gay marriage today as they were in 2004. Opposition remains strongest among white evangelical Protestants, 56% of whom strongly oppose legalizing gay marriage, down from 65% two years ago.
Not only is support for marriage steadily growing, but the intensity of the opposition has softened as well? Even among Republicans and seniors? Granted, passions aren't stroked on the issue at the moment, so we could see some volatility once that recommences. But I'm more interested in how people feel about issues when they aren't hearing a lot of demagoguery.

The Big Fear has been that we are in a backlash period, that we'd backslide for a while, and that opposition against gay and lesbian rights would settle and stop shifting in our favor. Apparently not. With the exception of 2004, support for the civil rights of gays and lesbians has been steadily growing for over a decade. The same poll also found that 60% of Americans support gays and lesbians openly serving in the military, and support for adoption by same-sex couples is split down the middle, 46-48%. (In contrast, in 1999 38% supported adoption rights, 57% opposed.) Even the old "gays are all child molesters" myth seems to be at risk. Wow.

While I don't doubt that the GOP will try to use same-sex marriage or adoption as an election-year battleaxe this fall, it's quite possible that it won't be much of a weapon in 2008 or beyond. I think it is the combination of the "shock" wearing off and reality seeping into the American consciousness. Gays don't threaten hetero marriages and New England (MA, CT and VT) have not experienced any problems since they legalized gay unions. Hey, considering so many people are *finally* seeing Bush & Co. for what they truly are, it shouldn't be that big of a surprise. (Doesn't mean I'm not still shocked, though.)

Along the lines of Fred's earlier post, if demagoguery about gays and lesbians loses its election year turn-out edge, what group does the GOP demonize next for fun and profit?

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