Sunday, March 26, 2006


A quick Google blog search shows a surge of good feeling on the left regarding the latest Pew Research Center survey involving, among other things, attitudes towards gay marriage. And certainly some of the numbers look good.

For example, opposition to gay marriage is off 10 percentage points, from 61% to 51%, since December, 2004; strong opposition is also off over the same period, from 38% to 28%. Outright support for gay marriage doesn't look to have risen by quite this much, but it's still up, from 32% in December, 2004 to 39% today. (The margin of error is 3 or 4%.) If this is a trend, we might actually look forward to a day reasonably soon when a gay-marriage ban loses at the ballot box.

But I wonder. The poll numbers also show that, for all the apparent progress in the last year and a half, we're still right around where we were in July, 2003, when Pew found 38% in favor of gay marriage and 53% opposed—margin-of-error-wise, numbers pretty much indistinguishable from today's results. A graph of poll results since then shows two spikes in opposition—one in late 2003-early 2004, around the time the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, and another in late 2004, around the time that gay-marriage bans appeared on 11 state ballots across the country (and passed in all of them). In between these spikes, opposition had fallen by seven percentage points. If you'd identified the Pew numbers from early 2004 as representing a trend (63% opposed in February, 59% in March, and 56% in June) you'd have been sorely mistaken, for by the end of the year opposition was up to 61% again.

So although it's tempting to think that acceptance of same-sex marriage is on the rise, recent history suggests that something else may be going on. It may just be that people don't get as worked up over the issue as long as they haven't been thinking too much about it and it's not in the news every day. The next burst of publicity, the next round of ballot questions, could send opposition up once again.

This is not to say that things are hopeless, or that progress can't be made. The long-term trend is positive, and polls (even those commissioned by Faux) show that the younger you are, the more likely you are to support equal marriage rights. But it may be a longer slog than this week's numbers seem to indicate.