Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Polls

In recent weeks Gallup has done two polls on the state of equality of rights for gay and lesbian people—which remains the major civil rights battle of the day. Looking at each poll alone is fascinating but considering them together is very enlightening.

The most recent poll on support marriage equality showed that a majority of Americans now view gay marriage as an acceptable option. Now this question is only for full-on marriage rights. The marriage-lite option, civil unions, is not included here. Numerous polls show that when that is offered into the mix then support rises to about 66% with one third firmly opposed to any legal rights for gay relationships.

What makes this quite fascinating is the dramatic shift that has taken place within a very short time. In 2010 only 56% of Democrats were willing to see gay couples with the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. But in 2011 the number had jumped to 69%, an increase of 13 points in one year. Independent voters, who generally trend in a libertarian direction, have a firm majority supporting full-on marriage rights. They are at 59%, up 10 points from a year ago. Republican support for equal rights remains at 28% with no change, but there is no surprise there, Republicans don't believe in evolution, so they don't evolve.

The Republicans are getting farther and farther away from the mainstream on this issue. And the spread between Republican beliefs and the rest of America is only getting bigger with time. Among individuals 18 to 34, support for marriage equality is now at 70%, up 16 points from a year ago. Among individuals 35 to 54, it is now at 53%, up 3 points. Among those over 55, it is now at 39%, up 6 points. The Republicans are concentrating on support from a dwindling demographic group—the elderly. That is a not a strategy for long-term success.

This does not appear to an anomaly. A CNN poll in April found 51% of all Americans now support marriage equality and a Washington Post/ABC poll in March found that 52% do. With all three major polls showing similar support levels there is a higher degree of confidence in them than would if any individual poll showed that.

The Public Religion Research Institute has looked at the numbers in the polls according to religion  and that reveals that there is really only one source of opposition left to legal equality—fundamentalists Christians. They found that 77% of non-religious Americans support marriage equality. Among Catholics support is at 55%, and among mainstream Protestants support is at 56%. But among white evangelical Protestants support trails even the GOP as a whole, at 23%. In regards to Tea Party types, who actually tend to be Republicans and evangelicals with a smattering of libertarians, support is at 34%, barely higher than the GOP as a whole, probably due to the small libertarian influence.

What we have is a very firm minority, about one-third of all voters, who are absolutely opposed to gay couples having any legal rights similar to straight couples. Now, we also hear that many of them aren't really "anti-gay" but just opposed to "tinkering" with marriage. Their views of marriage are ahistorical, and religiously motivated, but they hold them firmly believing them to be absolute fact. But there is a strong reason to believe that their hatred for gay people is far more intense than they let on.  Consider another Gallup poll as evidence.

In this poll the question asked was whether "gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal?" There was no other issues clouding the question. Opponents of marriage equality tend to dirty the waters with bogus issues like "freedom of religion," or forcing kids at public schools to learn how to be gay. They pretend that the real issue is something other than the issue that is at hand. And they will frequently say they aren't anti-gay, they are just pro-marriage, as long as pro-marriage means being anti-marriage for some people.

But the second Gallup poll shows that 64% of all Americans believe that homosexuality should be legal.

Reading the more detailed results we find that 32% of Americans still want it to be illegal for people to be gay. That is utterly astounding. It is like criminalizing people for having blue eyes. When they say they want it to be illegal, they are saying they want legal sanctions against such people. How severe remains to be seen but criminal would imply some jail time, certainly for repeat offenders—and that pretty much means all gay people. I know  that some fundamentalists extremists like Gary North and Greg Dixon want homosexuals to face execution if they can get the state to go along with them. Note: North pretends his solution is "libertarian" because the local community would gather, sing a few hymns and then stone homosexuals to death. He argues that since the murders would be done privately it is consistent with libertarianism.

It seems totally unlikely that the one-third of Americans opposed to any legal recognition of gay couples are substantially different people from the one-third that want homosexuality to be a criminal offense. They must be pretty much be the same people in both cases. It seems highly unlikely that individuals who want marriage equality rights for gay people would then want such people arrested for being gay. It is certainly possible that some individuals are so completely bonkers as to support marriage equality and legislation making it illegal to be gay, at the same time, but that seems to be so unlikely a position as to be statistically insignificant.

The only rational conclusion I can see drawing from this is that almost all the people who are opposed to either civil unions or full marriage equality are the same people who actually want to see gay people incarcerated. That pretty much demolishes the claim that they aren't anti-gay, just selectively pro-marriage. What I do understand is that they can't actually announce the levels of their raw hatred for LGBT people. That would be a political liability and they know it. So groups like the National Organization for (sic) Marriage and others downplay areas where they don't think they can't win, in the hope of winning the debate on marriage equality. But, the fact that they can't really say how they feel about gay people doesn't mean they don't feel it.

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