Conservatives losing gay marriage battle


One of the major challenges during this fall’s faculty contract negotiations was bringing Northern’s health plan into compliance with the state’s constitutional ban on the recognition of same-sex partnerships. Michigan’s stance is not an aberration; the Human Rights Coalition reports that a total of 40 states have approved either constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage or functionally similar laws.

The religious right notched yet another victory on its belt this November, as Maine voters overturned a law that would have allowed same-sex marriage in the state.

Despite these successes, social conservatives will soon have to face an uncomfortable truth: They are going to lose the fight over same-sex marriage.
While national polls continue to show that a majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, those same polls tend to show popular support, by similar margins, for granting same-sex couples many of the rights and privileges associated with marriage. For example, an Associated Press poll run this September found 53 percent opposition to federal recognition of same-sex marriages, but 54 percent support for the idea that same-sex couples should receive the same
government benefits as married couples.

Similarly, a Pew Research Center survey conducted in August found 53 percent opposition to same-sex marriage, but 57 percent support for granting same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples. These results suggest that a significant number of voters oppose same-sex marriage due to discomfort with the idea rather than because of deep-seated religious or ideological beliefs. As gay blogger Bill Harnsberger put it, many people are simply not ready to “see two dudes in wedding dresses charge down the aisle of their local church singing, ‘Here Comes the Bride.'”

Barring some sort of widespread backlash against the growing acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream American culture, these uncomfortable voters are likely to become increasingly persuadable over time. That said, even if social conservatives somehow hold onto all of their present supporters, it will only delay the inevitable.

Researchers Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University recently reported on the existence of a massive generational gap in views on same-sex marriage, with people over age 65 being by far the most opposed and those under age 30 being the most supportive.

If gay rights advocates continue to gain and hold the support of a significant majority of younger voters, and there is no immediate reason to believe they will not do so, then their long-term political victory is assured. A preview of the future can be seen in November’s voting results from the campus of the University of Maine, where opponents of the anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiative outnumbered its supporters by more than 4:1.

Our nation’s treatment of its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens is improving, but it will take a long time to extract the entrenched inequalities from our legal system. Until that is achieved, those living in the shadow of discrimination should take heart at the words of gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who said this November, “We’re in this for the long haul. Keep your energy up and your focus clear. We can be in it for the long haul because we know how this is gonna end: full equality.”

Editor’s Note: Jeff Thomas is a senior, civil communications major and on staff for the Political Review, a publication that focuses on student views of political issues. He can be reached at [email protected].