A Washington Post-ABC poll earlier this month found that 47 percent of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal, while 31 percent oppose. Support is down by 2 percentage points from the May 2009 poll cited below, but opposition has dropped 15 points.
From May 8, 2009:
Four polls released over the last week show that the American public is slowly but steadily coming to support the idea that marriage equality should be the law of the land.
The latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows the highest support, finding for the first time that more people (49 percent) are in favor of gay marriage than are against it (46 percent). That’s a whopping 17 point jump in support in the poll from five years ago.
In a CNN poll released yesterday, opposition to gay marriage was ahead, 54 percent to 44 percent, while 60 percent favored same-sex civil unions. (The most significant finding in the poll may have been the 58 percent support for gay marriage among young voters.)
The New York Times/CBS poll found that 42 percent supported gay marriage — the highest number ever recorded in that poll. And the Quinnipiac University poll reported that 55 percent opposed gay marriage while 38 percent favored it. On the other hand, by 57 percent to 38 percent, these same voters said they favored civil unions.
One factor behind the steady growth in support for marriage equality is that as fair-minded people delve into the arguments for and against gay marriage, the rationales promoted by anti-gay activists collapse under scrutiny.
In 1968, the year after the “activist” Supremes legalized interracial marriage in its decision on Loving vs. Virginia, a Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans still opposed the idea that blacks and whites could marry — 72 percent to 20 percent. Just
10 20 years earlier, in the wake of a California Supreme Court decision that overturned newly minted anti-interracial marriage laws in the state, Gallup found that 94 percent of Americans opposed mixed-race marriages.
As meager as support for gay marriage is now — 49 percent in WashPost, 44 percent in CNN, 42 percent in the Times/CBS and 38 percent in Qunnipiac — it is still about double the 20-percent approval for interracial marriage in the country a few months after mixed marriages became legal. (The average of support in the four new polls is 43.25 percent.)
In fact, it wasn’t until 1991, almost a quarter century after Loving, that opinion flipped on interracial marriage, 48 percent to 42 percent.
The most interesting number in the current round of polls comes from CNN, which found that 49 percent of Americans said they knew someone who is gay. It’s this factor that is likely prompting fair-minded people to apply more rigorous analysis to the flimsy excuses for opposing gay marriage.
The fact that half the people in the country say they have a gay friend or family member also proves that coming out works. Bigotry is a byproduct of ignorance. Nothing debunks stereotypes and popular misconceptions than actually knowing someone who is gay.
(The fact that 49 percent of Americans claim to know someone who is gay also appears to belie anti-gay activists’ assertion that only 1 or 2 percent of the population is gay. By comparison, about 1.5 percent of the country are Mormons, but it seems unlikely that half of Americans would say they personally know someone who is a Mormon. For example, I don’t.)
On “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” a few weeks ago, conservative columnist George Will warned Republicans that it was folly to continue to pin their party’s future on drumming up hatred for gay people to turn out votes. Young conservatives, he said, see being gay as no more controversial than being left-handed.
That statement from one of the Beltway’s leading expositors of conventional thinking was a sign of defeat for the dwindling army of homophobes and their anti-gay agenda.
The start of the “coming out” movement roughly coincides with the Stonewall Riots in June 1969 — just five years after the Loving decision. While there is a long way to go, this is a remarkable — and, yes, historic — turnaround in public attitudes in just 40 years.