This is not 2004. In that year, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favour of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, the first US state to allow this. It was only a year after Lawrence v. Texas, in which the US Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws in 14 states. In that year’s presidential election, the Republican incumbent George W. Bush proposed a Federal Marriage Amendment to amend the US Constitution to define marriage as between a man and and a woman, prohibiting states from enacting laws to contrary effect. It would have been the second Amendment to restrict the freedoms of US citizens, the first being the 18th Amendment in 1919, introducing prohibition (repealed in 1933). President Bush’s Democratic opponent, John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts, supported civil unions, while opposing both equal marriage and any proposal to define marriage at a federal level. Referendums to amend state constitutions to define marriage as only between a man and a woman appeared on the ballot in a number of states in November 2004, driving up conservative turnout, and contributing to the vote of Bush against Kerry, in what was a close election.
But a lot has changed in those eight years on the issue of gay marriage. Then it seemed destined to be a nice feature of certain liberal enclaves, whether in the US or in Europe. Now it seems an inevitability, only a matter of time across most of the developed world. Last year, public tracking polling by Gallup showed for the first time that a majority of Americans supported legal gay marriage, with 53% in favour and 45% against. The figures in 2004 were 55% in favour, and 42% against. The figures in 2004 were 42% in favour and 55% against, and they remained steady till last year. An annual tracking poll should be reliable, but in case it looks too sudden to be credible, it was corroborated by similar figures from the Washington Post (53%) and CNN (51%).
I read Andrew Sullivan‘s blog regularly enough and enjoy it. But oftentimes he can jump to conclusions with data that lies with his general thesis. Yesterday he published two contradictory polls, without picking up or commenting on this incongruity.
In a post favouring the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, whereby gays and lesbians cannot serve openly in the military (a policy that should be repealed, as it needlessly leads to qualified soldiers being dismissed), he cited a Gallup Poll that showed that 58% of Republican voters favoured the end of this policy.
Then in a separate post on the worrying views of Republican voters, he cited a Daily Kos Poll showing a range of outrageous views. He drew attention to the statistic that only 8% supported allowing openly gay teachers in public schools, given that Republican icon Ronald Reagan opposed the Briggs Initiative in 1978 that would have instituted such a ban in California’s public schools.
Side-by-side, these two statistics seem strange. Following through on the links shows that the Daily Kos Poll does give a statistic on gays in the military, claiming that 59% of Republicans do not think gays should serve openly.
Had these appeared on separate days, it might be understandable, but to show both polls without wondering whether Gallup, founded in 1935 and well renowned for its methodology and predictive power, might not be a more reliable indicator of political viewpoints, seems a little strange.