Monday, July 11, 2011

Support for same-sex marriage may be overstated

(Wing/Wikimedia Commons)
Over the past year, defenders of traditional marriage have suffered a series of setbacks.  In August 2010, a federal judge struck down California’s definition of marriage amendment as had happened in a handful of other states.  Just before Christmas, Congress voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy and allow gays to serve openly in the military.  In February 2011, Attorney General Holder announced that the Obama Administration would not defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act against challenges in federal court.  King and Spalding, the Atlanta law firm selected by Congress to defend the law, withdrew from the case in April under pressure from gay rights activist groups.

The trend led Jim Daly, the head of Focus on the Family, to tell “World Magazine” in early June that “We're losing on that one [gay marriage], especially among the 20- and 30-somethings….”  Daly went on to say, “We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.”

Daly’s words were prescient.  A few weeks later, New York became the third state to enact gay marriage legislatively, rather than by judicial fiat (after Vermont and New Hampshire).  The law was primarily supported by Democrats although four Republicans crossed the aisle to allow it to pass.

The trend was seemingly supported by a Gallup poll in May 2011 that indicated that, for the first time, a majority of Americans supported gay marriage.  The Gallup poll asked the question, “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?”  By a margin of 53-45 percent, respondents said that they believed that same-sex marriages should be recognized.  In the previous poll taken in May 2010, respondents opposed recognizing same-sex marriage by 53-44 percent.

In June 2011, however, a new survey was released that contrasted sharply with Gallup’s findings.  The new poll asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following statement:  “I believe marriage should be defined ONLY as a union between one man and one woman.”  Sixty-two percent of respondents agreed with the statement, including 53 percent who strongly agreed.  Only thirty-five percent disagreed.

The new survey was commissioned by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, and carried out by Public Opinion Strategies.  The ADF-POS poll has a larger sample size (1,500 vs. 1,018 for Gallup) and a smaller margin of error (2.53 percent vs. four percent for Gallup) than May’s Gallup poll.  The question in the ADF-POS poll is also arguably much more simple and straightforward than Gallup’s question.

In a press release, ADF Senior Counsel Brian Raum said, “Americans recognize that marriage provides a strong foundation for a thriving society.  The union between husband and wife benefits society--especially children--in unique ways that cannot be duplicated by any other relationship. Throughout history, diverse cultures and faiths have recognized this universally defined ideal as the best way to promote healthy, natural families for the good of future generations.”

Gene Ulm, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies and director of the survey, noted, “These numbers are not surprising.  More than 63 million Americans in 31 state elections have voted on constitutional marriage amendments. Forty million Americans in all—63 percent of total voters--have voted to affirm marriage as a union between a man and a woman.”

Ironically, the 63 percent margin in the poll is almost exactly the same as the percentage of Americans who have cast ballots in favor of traditional marriage over the years.  It also represents an almost two-to-one preference for traditional marriage.  When Georgia voters considered a defense of marriage amendment in 2004, it passed with 76 percent voting in favor.

At present, only six states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York) and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  California’s defense of marriage amendment was overturned, but same-sex marriage is not legal pending the appeal.  Additionally, Rhode Island and Maryland recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey allow same-sex civil unions.  Most of the remaining states either have laws or constitutional amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman.

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