Saturday, March 19, 2011

The new same-sex marriage majority

Perhaps it was only a matter of time. Whatever the case, the time has come:

More than half of Americans say it should be legal for gays and lesbians to marry, a first in nearly a decade of polls by ABC News and The Washington Post.

This milestone result caps a dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes. From a low of 32 percent in a 2004 survey of registered voters, support for gay marriage has grown to 53 percent today. Forty-four percent are opposed, down 18 points from that 2004 survey. 

Of course, the issue remains divisive, with the divisions largely generational and ideological. Republicans and especially evangelical conservatives oppose same-sex marriage, as do older age cohorts.

But the trend is clear: support for same-sex marriage is growing and the majority will continue to expand. It's only a matter of time before same-sex marriage becomes part of the American social landscape, accepted as, for lack of a better word, "normal."

Conservative opposition will remain, but, even there, it will weaken, just as conservative opposition to, say, civil rights has weakened over time. Ultimately, even conservatives (or future generations of conservatives) come to accept, however reluctantly, that which they vehemently opposed. Perhaps their energy wears out, perhaps they simply come to accept the new social norms, and, even if they don't admit it, come to see their opposition as retrograde bigotry.

Many younger Americans who support same-sex marriage now will get more conservative as they age, but this poll indicates that opposition among older Americans is weakening. Simply put, generations are, for the most part, getting more liberal.

And even those groups with the staunchest opposition are seeing changes:

The issue remains divisive; as many adults "strongly" oppose gay marriage as strongly support it, and opposition rises to more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, a core conservative group. But opposition to gay marriage has weakened in these groups from its levels a few years ago, and support has grown sharply among others – notably, among Catholics, political moderates, people in their 30s and 40s and men. 

Looking ahead to the American future, there are many reasons to despair. Thankfully, though, there are a few indicators of progress. This is one of them, and America will be a much better place once it legalizes same-sex marriage -- from Alaska to Florida, from Hawaii to Maine -- and puts an end to the institutionalized bigotry of sexual orientation for good.

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