You may have seen this recent Washington Post/ABC poll: the latest and, in my view, most reliable of the still-few national polls which have shown an outright majority of Americans favoring same-sex marriage.
I have been as careful as anyone to read the polls cautiously. When people are offered the third alternative of civil unions, support for SSM falls to the 30-40 percent range (though the trend has been upward). And it is true that more people say they support same sex marriage than vote for it.
That said, I scratch my head when reading conservatives’ interpretation of the poll. “Don’t believe it,” says a National Review editorial (April 18):
Respondents seem to tell interviewers that they favor same-sex marriage because they think it’s what they are supposed to say. Their answers are more negative when voting or responding to robo-polls… The poll is not evidence that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. It is, however, evidence that its supporters have succeeded in setting the terms of the debate.
Or that, says Maggie Gallagher, they have succeeded in “intimidating and silencing” gay-marriage opponents. “America is becoming a place where people have to be wary about saying what they believe.” Got that? Gay marriage opponents are…an oppressed majority.
Having relied so long on the argument that elites are trying to ram gay marriage down the throats of an unwilling majority, opponents now have their backs to the wall. In the face of evidence of shifting public opinion, they have little choice but to deny.
Even if it is true, however, that people are growing more reluctant to express opposition to SSM—which, by the way, would be evidence of changing public morality, not of “intimidating and silencing”—it strains credulity to say that nothing but bullying is reflected in Pollster.com’s Charles Franklin’s splendid scatterplots of poll results going back more than two decades.
As the charts show, support for SSM rises slowly but steadily over time, and opposition declines—on both the two-way and three-way questions. Are we to believe these results measure nothing more than the creeping menace of gay bullying?
Here’s something else, from Gallup. Over a decade, the trends in approval of same-sex relations mirror the trends in approval of same-sex marriage. Is that “intimidation” too? A coincidence?
To me it seems pretty hard to sustain, with a straight face, the claim that these polls don’t represent real changes in public opinion. I don’t think there’s a national voting majority in the U.S. for same-sex marriage. But I do think the day is coming.
One reason is the poor job that SSM opponents have done convincing the public that keeping gay couples out of marriage will help keep straight couples in. Another is their refusal to address the country’s growing moral compassion for gay Americans. Denial doesn’t cut it.