Three stories over the past week or so add to the ample evidence that acceptance of marriage equality is growing and that there are people — particularly straight people — willing to fight for same-sex marriage. There are still folks who want to deny same-sex couples the respect and dignity that come with marriage — the latest example coming out of Minnesota over the weekend. Still, as the chart below from the latest Gallup poll on attitudes toward marriage equality shows, there is reason for cheer.
According to Gallup, 53 percent of Americans surveyed in the poll released Friday support legal recognition of same-sex married couples. This is the first time since Gallup began tracking the issue in 2004 that support topped 50 percent. Just last year support was only 44 percent. “This year’s nine-percentage-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured.. . .,” Gallup wrote.
But this isn’t the first poll to show a majority of Americans saying “I do” to giving gay and lesbian couples the right to legally wed.
The latest Post-ABC News poll from March is almost a mirror image of the Gallup survey.
A CNN poll from April pegged support for marriage equality at 51 percent. An Associated Press poll from last August showed 52 percent support. This broadening popular approval surely might partially explain why politicians from the nation’s capital to state capitals are increasingly less shy about pushing for gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular.
Late last week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg (R) of New York went to Albany to personally lobby eight Republican state senators, including the majority leader, to vote in favor of a marriage equality bill when it comes to the floor next month. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) made it clear when he took office in January that legalizing same-sex marriage in the Empire State was a priority. But like Bloomberg, he is moving beyond rhetoric and getting personally involved, including releasing a video today, to try to ensure that it happens.
Bloomberg has put his own money on the table to get this done, and he’s hosting a fundraiser on Wednesday for New Yorkers United for Marriage. But he’s not alone in lending financial support. The New York effort is getting a major assist from what might have been an unlikely source even five years ago: deep-pocketed Republican donors. The New York Times reported last week that hedge fund manager Paul Singer has donated and raised almost $1 million. Steven Cohen and Clifford S. Asness are among the donors.
All of this is happening as more and more straight folks in New York are becoming vocal and visible allies in the push for marriage equality. Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Barbara Bush, Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers, Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns (who lives in NYC off season), music mogul Russell Simmons and a host of actors, restaurateurs and other opinion makers and trendsetters have declared themselves New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.
Why these New Yorkers and now a majority of Americans want committed gay and lesbian couples to be able to legally wed was wonderfully stated by Ted Olson at a briefing breakfast hosted by the Center for American Progress last Wednesday. Olson is the conservative of the conservative-liberal legal odd couple — David Boies is the liberal — trying to overturn Proposition 8, the voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in California, in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
At the end of the day, the word marriage means something. It isn’t just the institution of marriage. It is the words themselves. Our proponents argued vigorously that the word marriage meant something very, very important so that that should be limited to certain people marrying someone of the opposite sex . And that domestic partnerships or civil unions would be just fine for the rest of America because marriage meant something very, very special. Well, that because it means something very, very special is why it is wrong to deny it to some of our citizens. Just like the word citizen means something. You could say to someone you could have all the rights of a citizen — you can vote, you can travel, you can do all these things — but you can’t call yourself a citizen you wouldn’t be an American then, would you? And if you can’t be married, you don’t have the same rights or same status or same dignity, same respect that other people do.
Not everyone hold this to be true. Late Saturday night, the Minnesota House approved an amendment to the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. If it passes the state Senate then it goes to the voters in November 2012. Think of it as a Midwest version of Prop 8, which Olson aptly described as “a classic example of government engraving in its constitution discrimination against some of its citizens.” But in talking about the Prop 8 case, Boies got right to the core of what’s at stake in California — and other states like Minnesota that want to replicate what was done there.
The fundamental issue is that this is not something that ought to be decided politically. I think it’s very encouraging to all of us that there is this shift in public opinion. Even in the absence of public opinion, the fact of the matter is that the constitutional protections are clear and those constitutional protections do not and cannot, if they’re going to be protections at all, depend on what the political point of view is of legislators or voters at any particular point in time.
Put another way: the civil rights of a minority should never be put to a popular vote.
May the tremendous shift in public opinion in the two years since the Prop 8 case was filed lead to the defeat of that Minnesota measure. As Olson said on MSNBC last August, “What could be at the end of the day more conservative than two loving people that want to get married and build a family that want to be part of our neighborhoods and our community?”