Gay Rights' Slow, Slow March


| 5/23/2012 3:11:46 PM


Tags: Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Rights, Barack Obama, Defense of Marriage Act, State Politics, Supreme Court, Sam Ross-Brown.,

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These days, it’s easy to see marriage equality as inevitable. For the last two years, at least half of Americans have supported legalization, which means support has just about doubled since the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996. Views on gay marriage have changed dramatically in the last 15 years, particularly among young people. And support is increasing across-the-board, not just in the blue and mostly coastal states where same-sex marriage is now legal. 

While most of the 30-odd states that have recently passed gay marriage bans did so with strong popular majorities, those majorities are eroding quickly, according to Gregory B. Lewis of Georgia State University. Writing in the American Prospect, Lewis points out that most people already support gay marriage in at least three states that have recently banned it, and another four are now dead-heats.

And that number is increasing. Across the country, opposition to gay marriage has dropped by about 16 points since the first and largest wave of state bans in 2004, Lewis writes. Even more surprising, there are no states where support for gay marriage has not gone up. Even in places like Mississippi and Kentucky—both of which have passed bans by wide margins—support grows at an average of 1 or 2 percent each year. But for gay marriage supporters, the tricky part is translating these new attitudes into actual reform.

Yes, Americans’ views are changing quickly, but laws in most states are not likely to keep up—at least not for a while. While most people in Arizona or Nevada will probably support same-sex marriage within a few years, state laws may be slow to reflect that. Take Nevada. Four years after voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2002, the state tightened its voter initiative process. Today, getting an amendment passed there requires either two separate ballot initiatives over two separate election cycles—OR, a vote in the legislature, another vote in the legislature after a statewide legislative election, and then a ballot initiative. So rescinding the state ban isn’t impossible, but it’s not all that likely either. Critically, Nevada is one of six states that recently tightened its amendment rules after approving a marriage amendment.

Another issue is GOP dominance. Republicans currently control 27 state legislatures, and another seven are evenly divided. Most states require legislatures to approve or initiate constitutional amendments (often by wide margins), which may significantly complicate reform efforts. Even if a handful of states reverse their Republican majorities in November, overturning a constitutional amendment is a long process, and requires the kind of tough strategy that the GOP still seems much better at.

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5/28/2012 1:53:56 PM

Hmmm....Could it be the use (misuse) of religious values as political fodder?