Americans settle gay marriage debate
The Pew Research Centre’s latest poll adds to the mound of evidence that there has been a sea change in public opinion about gay marriage:
By a margin of nearly two-to-one — 62 per cent to 32 per cent — more Americans now say they favour allowing gays to marry than say they are opposed.
Views on same-sex marriage have shifted dramatically in recent years. As recently as 2010, more Americans opposed (48 per cent) than favoured (42 per cent) allowing gays to marry legally. In the past year alone, support has increased seven percentage points: in March 2016, 55 per cent favoured same-sex marriage, while 37 per cent were opposed.
There is a dramatic shift within groups historically reluctant to accept gay marriage. African-Americans (51 per cent in favour; 41 per cent opposed) and Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (47 per cent in favour; 48 per cent oppose) have all become more supportive of gay marriage.
Older white evangelicals remain the exception, even as younger evangelicals’ views shift. (“35 per cent of white evangelical Protestants favour same-sex marriage [up from 14 per cent in 2007], compared with a 59 per cent majority who are opposed. But younger white evangelicals have grown more supportive: 47 per cent of white evangelical millennials and Gen Xers — age cohorts born after 1964 — favour same-sex marriage, up from 29 per cent in March 2016”).
Several aspects of the poll are striking.
First, older white evangelicals — Donald Trump’s base — are in the minority on this. Their religious values (versus gay marriage) don’t hold sway with the rest of the country.
They may see themselves as under siege or victims in a “war against Christianity”; in fact, they are simply on the losing side of a larger cultural debate.
Ironically, Trump has been supportive of gay marriage in the past and never made it an issue in the campaign. So the Trump base does not even have Trump on its side on this one.
The degree to which white evangelical Christians’ viewpoint has been marginalised is striking. The recent Public Religion Research Institute report noted: “There are only three major religious groups among whom a majority oppose same-sex marriage: Jehovah’s Witnesses (53 per cent oppose v 25 per cent support), Mormons (55 per cent oppose v 37 per cent support) and white evangelical Protestants (61 per cent oppose v 31 per cent support). Together, these three religious groups comprise only 19 per cent of the general public.”
Second, one can see how this leads to a phoney religious liberty issue.
Well, the Supreme Court says they can marry, but I don’t have to sell them a cake! That’s the issue the Supreme Court will consider in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v Colorado Civil Rights Commission. However the court rules, one cannot help but think that in a decade, discrimination against gays in the name of religion will be as illegitimate as discrimination in the name of religion on the basis of race. The PRRI poll found 50 per cent of evangelicals oppose the right to refuse service while “fewer than half of Mormons (42 per cent), Hispanic Protestants (34 per cent), black Protestants (25 per cent), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (25 per cent)” do. Majorities of every racial and ethnic group oppose refusing to serve gays on religious grounds.
Third, education, which is increasingly a defining factor in politics, shows up in attitudes towards gay marriage. Pew found that support for gay marriage was “79 per cent among those with postgraduate degrees and 72 per cent among those with bachelor’s degrees. Smaller majorities of those with some college experience but no college degree (62 per cent) or those with no more than a high school degree (53 per cent) say they favour allowing gays and lesbians to marry.”
In sum, a large majority of Americans in a very short time have shifted their view dramatically in favour of accepting gay marriage. Religious minorities are free to disagree, and some still do, but their claimed privilege to discriminate will not be one shared — or even understood — by a growing majority of their fellow Americans.
• Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective
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