Monday, May 23, 2005

The Glass is Half Full


The latest poll on gay marriage attitudes offers rays of hope

By Steve Charing

Upon the one-year anniversary of the historic beginning of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, we note that over 6,100 gay and lesbian couples have wed in the Bay State. The latest poll, published by the Boston Globe and conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center of 760 randomly selected adults during May 4-9, showed half of Americans object to same-sex marriages and do not want their states to recognize gay marriages from Massachusetts. Thirty-seven percent approved such marriages while eleven percent were neutral. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.

While the poll found that half of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, 46 percent of those surveyed indicated support for civil unions that would provide lgbt couples with "some, but not all of the legal rights of married couples." Forty-one percent were against civil unions.

Since the landmark ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in November 2003, 18 states have amended their constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman (with more on the way), thus slamming the doors on same-sex marriage in these states pending possible court challenges. To make matters worse, President Bush on a number of occasions called for a federal constitutional amendment—the Defense of Marriage Act—that would, in effect, ban same-sex marriage. Although the proposed amendment failed to get by either chamber of Congress last year, nowhere is there a consensus among Americans that believes allowing same-sex marriage is the fair and right thing to do.

Sounds bad huh? Not really.

Poll results are always seen through the prism of one’s convictions; they can be viewed as either the glass is half full or half empty, and the numbers are always subject to interpretation and discussion. On the controversial issue of same-sex marriage, the glass is half full, but there is an enormous way to go to fill the glass to the brim.

Many lgbt equality advocates point to the experience in Massachusetts as reason for hope. "While the outside world debates how to treat its gay couples, Massachusetts sees that fire-and-brimstone predictions didn't come true," wrote Deb Price in USA Today on May 17—the one-year anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts. "Religious institutions haven't been forced to bless the civil marriage of any gay couple, though many have done so voluntarily." And the Globe, in an editorial, observed, "the world, unsurprisingly, has not fallen off its axis."

"The story of the last year is not just about these couples, it is also about how the radical right’s outlandish claims proved to be totally unfounded," said Patrick Guerriero, president of the Log Cabin Republicans. "Massachusetts has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country, and for most people, very little has changed over the last year."

Accordingly, the citizens of Massachusetts have done a hundred and eighty-degree turn and are overwhelmingly supportive of same-sex marriage. Another poll by the Globe taken in March shows that Bay Staters support these marriages by a 56 to 37 percent majority. In February 2004, the results indicated that more people had opposed same-sex marriage by a 53 to 35 percent margin. "People find out that when Adam and Steve marry next door, it doesn't hurt them, but it does help Adam and Steve," says pollster Bob Meadow of Decision Research.

And to some, the tide appears to be turning nationwide. "We have withstood a huge gay bashing assault and still 4 out of 10 people think [same-sex] marriage is OK, 11 percent could care less, and only 50 percent of the country is against gay marriage," said Kevin Jordan, co-chair of the PFLAG-Howard County Advocacy Committee, referring to the latest poll results. "Half the country is not on the side of [the opponents of marriage equality]. This is huge."

Jordan is correct. During the entire presidential election campaign, the question of same-sex marriage was mixed in along with terrorism, the economy and the war in Iraq as issues that mattered most to voters. Despite Senator John Kerry’s public opposition to same-sex marriage, the Republicans saw fit to bludgeon him over the head with the issue and may have contributed to higher GOP Evangelical-Christian voter turnout in the pivotal state of Ohio, thereby tipping the election towards Mr. Bush. And with constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on the ballots of 11 states during the election cycle, the anti-gay marriage rhetoric filled the air like a poisonous dense fog.

The scare tactics that were designed by Karl Rove and his fear and smear machine and employed by the anti-gay Republicans were manifested in inflammatory sermons at churches (including African-American churches), divisive and often false radio messages and other under-the-radar negative advertising. Adding to the woes was the fact there were no major leaders in either Party advocating same-sex marriage. If they didn’t oppose it outright, they chose to run away from the issue; therefore, no pro-gay voices were heard to offset the vitriol.

Moreover, opposition to the federal constitutional amendment question was framed more around the appropriateness or lack thereof, of using the Constitution to encroach upon states’ rights regarding marriage policy. The fairness argument was mute.

Having withstood the barrage of anti-gay marriage messages with virtually no clear voice to counter them, the public’s attitudes appear to be moving ever so slowly towards the more positive side. "Public acceptance is growing, and polling data and trends show we’re gaining ground," Jay Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign told Baltimore OUTloud. "People more and more see same-sex marriage as a matter of fairness."

This is especially true in Massachusetts, where the citizens have witnessed these marriages without the threatened Armageddon. What we need now are more states like Massachusetts to help top off that half-full glass.

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