A majority of Republicans support either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples
by Mel Green
A majority of Republican voters support some form of legal recognition for same-sex relationships, according to polling results released by Public Policy Polling (PPP). A total of 51% of Republican voters surveyed supported either marriage (12%) or civil unions (39%) for same-sex couples, with 48% opposing any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples and 1% unsure. The results are based on a synthesis of opinions among 1,074 self-identified Republican voters over three national polls conducted by Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos in March, April, and May.[caption id="attachment_2907" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Source of data: Public Policy Polling; table by Mel Green (Bent Alaska)."][/caption]
Tea Party affiliation (about one-third of Republican voters) was a strong predictor of opposition to any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 57% of Tea Party Republicans in comparison with only 40% of non-Tea Party Republicans opposing all legal recognition of same-sex relationships. There were also disparities by income and age — with lower income and older respondents less likely to support same-sex marriage than those with higher income or who were younger. (Full results of the survey are available in a PDF.)
But overall, Republicans respondents were more likely to support some form of legal recognition for same-sex relationships (51%) than they were to approve of the Representative John Boehner’s performance as Speaker of the House (45%). As the author of the PPP blog post about the survey results commented, “The times they are a changing…”
In fact, four recent national polls since last August— by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation in April 2011, ABC News/Washington Post in March 2011, CBS News in August 2010, and AP-National Constitution Center Poll in August 2010 — show a majority of Americans (of various political affiliations) now supporting marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. (A fifth survey, by Pew Research Center in February–March 2011, showed a one percentage point difference between opposition (46%) and support (45%) for same-sex marriage, but neither position held the majority; the question in this poll did not give a “civil unions” option.)
In April, after release of the most recent of those polls, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight analyzed trends in public polls from 1988 to the present on the question of same-sex marriage. He found that”support for gay marriage seems to have been increasing at an accelerated pace over the past couple of years,” writing,
[caption id="attachment_2909" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Public polls on same-sex marriage 1988–2011. A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Source: FiveThirtyEight (Nate Silver)."][/caption]
The trendline…estimates that about 50 percent of Americans now support gay marriage and that 46 percent are opposed, with a small percentage of voters undecided. By contrast, at this time two years ago, the numbers were 42 percent in favor and 53 percent opposed, according to the same technique….
[O]pponents of gay marriage almost certainly no longer constitute a majority; just one of the last nine polls has shown opposition to gay marriage above 50 percent….
One way to read the trends of the past few years is that we have passed an inflection point wherein it is no longer politically advantageous for candidates to oppose same-sex marriage, which in turn softens opposition to it among the general public, creating a sort of feedback loop and accelerating the trend.
In February 1998, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski wrote in his decision in Brause v. Bureau of Vital Statistics:
The relevant question is not whether same-sex marriage is so rooted in our traditions that it is a fundamental right, but whether the freedom to choose one’s own life partner is so rooted in our traditions.
Judge Michalski’s decision ordered the State of Alaska to show a compelling reason why heterosexuals should be granted special rights to marry that were denied to gay men and lesbians, including my friends Jay Brause and Gene Dugan, who had brought the suit. It was Judge Michalski’s decision which triggered conservatives in Alaska — heavily financed by out-of-state conservative religious and political interests — to push for Ballot Measure 2, which called for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only between “one man and one woman.”
The measure passed on November 3, 1998 by a landslide 2 to 1 vote, making Alaska, along with Hawaii (which passed a similar measure that day) the first states to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in their state constitutions. The following day, reporter Liz Ruskin wrote in the Anchorage Daily News,
Julie Stephens, a married mother of two, said she mulled the question over a lot and discussed it with her husband. In the end, she decided to vote against the amendment.
”People should be allowed to marry who they want to marry,” she said. ”Times change.”
And sometimes they don’t.
And sometimes they do. The trends may still be slower then we’d like — but public opinion is, yes, gradually catching up with what Judge Peter Michalski wrote in his February 1998 decision and how Alaska voter Julie Stephens voted that November. Perhaps one day the discrimination enshrined in the Alaska Constitution will be reversed. Here’s hoping.
- “Alaska Ballot Measure 2 (1998).” Wikipedia article.
- Alaska Constitution, Article I, Section 25 (1998) — “Marriage.”
- Brause v. Bureau of Vital Statistics, No. 3AN-95-6562 CI, 1998 WL 88743 (Alaska Superior Court, Feb. 27, 1998).
- Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Rights. Poll results from various national polls on marriage equality and LGBT equality from Pollingreport.com.
- 5/9/2009. “Same-sex marriage: A personal history” by Mel Green (Henkimaa).
- 11/4/1998. “Limit on marriage passes in landslide” by Liz Ruskin (Anchorage Daily News).
- 4/20/2011. “Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority” by Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight, nytimes.com).
- 5/4/2011. “Most Republicans support recognition for gay couples” (Public Policy Polling). See also PDF of complete results.
- 5/6/2011. “Poll: Majority of Republicans support rights for same-sex couples” by Andy Birkey (The American Independent).