Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New poll shows opinion shift is strong and consistent.

There is more evidence that the “controversy” over same-sex marriage is dying rapidly. I have argued that we know the end of this debate and it won’t go the way that the Religious Rights wants it to go. The more they try to get traction on the issue the more they end up falling on their face.

The New York Times and CBS News recently polled Americans on various issues, as they have been jointly doing for some years. Their newest poll shows how attitudes have shifted rapidly in favor of marriage equality. They find that support for same-sex marriage has increased to 42 percent, while 25 percent support civil unions and only 28 percent want to deny all legal recognition to gay couples.

If we go back to 2004 we see how dramatically attitudes have changed in a very short period of time. At that time 22 percent said they would support full marriage equality, while 33 percent said they supported civil unions. Those opposing all legal recognition were 40 percent of the public.

It is clear that virtually all the shift in opinion is moving in the direction of marriage equality. The numbers supporting gay marriage has almost doubled in just a few years. While support for civil unions is down that is because individuals who previously were supportive of civil unions now endorse full marriage rights. That they are not shifting to the “Christian” view on the matter is shown by the decline in the percentage wanting to deny all legal rights to same-sex couples, down from 40 percent to 28 percent.

My guess is that most the shift can be explained this way: previous opponents to all rights for same-sex couples have shifted over to supporting civil unions while those who previously supported civil unions now support full marriage equality.

All indications are that this significant shift in opinion is going to continue. There are two demographic groups where anti-equality sentiment is strongest: those are the elderly and among conservative Christians. In truth, that is practically one group. The Religious Right today is primarily elderly as well. Fundamentalism in America has become the religion of the old. The obvious problem is that any demographic group that is heavily elderly will see their numbers collapse in a relatively short period of time. Young voters are overwhelmingly supportive of their gay friends marrying.

As older, Christian voters die off the opposition to gay marriage, what there is of it today, will die off as well.

The move to have constitutional amendments was always a rear guard action meant to delay any progress. The Right knew that opinions were shifting and knew that laws are easier to change than constitutions. So they enshrined their hatred in constitutions while public support was with them as a means of preventing legal changes when they lost the opinion wars.

I predict the total collapse of the anti-equality movement within the next five to ten years. It relies primarily on foot soldiers provided by fundamentalist churches (combined with Mormon funding). But fundamentalism is in its death throes. As I noted elsewhere, the numbers of Americans saying they are evangelical Christians has dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent in just two years. Without young members to replace the elderly this cultural backwater is going to decline rapidly and the backbone of the anti-equality movement will disappear.

Mormon money will not be able to substitute for a lack of voters. The dishonest, vicious attacks used by the Mormon-funded “Yes on 8” campaign can only work so often. Eventually people figure out that the fear-mongering advertisements are blatantly dishonest. The hysterical fear campaigns of old women like Maggie Gallagher and Jenny Morse will play to smaller and smaller audiences.

With five states already allowing gay marriage, and with 18,000 married same-sex couples in California, the public will be able to watch this “social experiment.” What they will see will repudiate the fear-mongers and bigots. In Massachusetts, opposition to marriage equality was highest the day it passed and has shrunk significantly since then. It shrinks because the anti-equality campaign exaggerated and lied to the public. Even if there were negative consequences—and there is no convincing evidence to show there is—the fear campaign has been so extreme that it needs very explicit, very dire consequences in order to appear credible. Anything short of social Armageddon will discredit them.

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