Wonkbook: Gay marriage hasn’t won, but its opponents have lost.

April 3, 2013

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(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Is gay marriage winning? It would seem so.

As this graph from Dylan Matthews shows, support in the Senate has risen at a genuinely exponential pace, rocketing from 11 supportive senators in 2011 to 50 in 2013. The flip in the country has been almost as impressive, though not quite as swift. According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, support for gay marriage has gone from about 40 percent of the population in 2004 to almost 60 percent today.

Amidst all this, it's become popular to say that gay marriage has actually "won." At Bloomberg View, Josh Barro brushes this away as glib triumphalism. "It doesn’t feel that way to gay men and lesbians," he writes. "Unless the Supreme Court rules in our favor this summer, we will likely have to spend more than 20 years fighting to repeal provisions in 30 state constitutions before national marriage equality is achieved. Many of us will be dead, or at least old and unmarriageable, before then."

Recall that even if the Supreme Court invalidates California's Prop 8, only about 28 percent of the country will live in states that recognize same-sex marriages. If Prop 8 stands, then only 16 percent of the country will live in such states.

What is true, Barro says, is that "foes of gay marriage have already lost." That loss, he argues, goes beyond gay marriage. It's a defeat for "a social norm that holds out opposite-sex marriage as the right and best way to form a family."

This tracks a reality in which many, many families are beginning outside the boundaries of traditional marriages. According to a new report, 48 percent of all first births are now to unmarried women -- and the trends suggest that will soon be a majority.

Until now, our main approach to dealing with this new reality has been to lament it. Our political discourse has mostly treated these families, be they single mothers or cohabitating 30-somethings, as disappointments, or symptoms of cultural decline. But perhaps, as the norms that write off all family arrangements save for traditional marriage break down, space will emerge for a more practical conversation about how to best support America's increasingly nontraditional family units.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 4. Over the next few months, there'll be significant pressure on the remaining seven Senate Democrats who haven't endorsed gay marriage to do so. But today's number is the count of Republicans in both houses of Congress who support it. The biggest question for gay marriage, perhaps, is how quickly it can find backing from the political right.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: How the Senate has swung in support of gay marriage, from 1996 to 2013.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) the incredible pace of the gay-rights movement; 2) how the World Bank became a 'climate hawk'; 3) states pick up nation's gun-control slack; 4) how the Medicare Advantage cut was cut; and 5) the economic recovery, rising but shaky.

1) Top story: Half of the Senate now supports gay marriage

50 senators now support gay marriage. 15 did in 2011. "Today, Mark Kirk and Tom Carper became the latest senators to endorse same-sex marriage, as members of the chamber seem to be falling over themselves to do in recent weeks...It’s basically an exponential increase." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

There are only 7 Democrats left who don't support gay marriage. And that number is likely to keep falling. "Their reasons are some combination of personal beliefs, geography and a large helping of political considerations. As they become a smaller and smaller group, however, the pressures on them from both inside and outside the Senate will grow." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@BuzzFeedAndrew: There are 52 Senators who want to repeal DOMA. Democratic Senators Nelson & Johnson don't support gay marriage but want to repeal DOMA.

...But there are only 4 Republicans in Congress who do support gay marriage. The question is how quickly that figure will grow. "Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday became the second Republican senator and the fourth GOP Member of Congress to support gay marriage. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) are the other three. Here’s a closer look at each of them — and their reasons for breaking with their party’s long-held position on marriage." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

@grossdm: So if just a few more GOP Senators have (a) gay kids; or (b) humanizing strokes, gay marriage legislation will be filibuster-proof in senate

BARRO: Gay marriage hasn't yet won, but its opponents have lost. "Opponents of gay marriage don’t just want to deny equal rights to same-sex couples. They want to use that denial of rights to establish a social norm that holds out opposite-sex marriage as the right and best way to form a family. But overwhelming elite and (soon) mass opinion in favor of marriage equality have destroyed the norm-setting power of laws against same-sex marriage, even if those laws themselves prove durable." Josh Barro in Bloomberg.

Music recommendations interlude: Sea lion dancing to "Boogie Wonderland," Earth, Wind & Fire, 1979.

Top op-eds

GLAESER: To rate a teacher's performance, first get an independent judge. "The best way forward is to move the evaluation of teachers outside the schools entirely, with standardized tests administered by an independent agency. This would be supplemented by classroom assessments based on unobtrusive videotaping, also judged by outsiders, including teachers’ representatives...The difference in test-score gains between a teacher who is rated average and one who is better than 85 percent of educators generates the same improvement as dropping class size by 10." Edward Glaeser in Bloomberg.

SOLTAS: Tax increases alone won't solve inequality. "Government can redistribute income, but it can't redistribute fathers. Yet government is not helpless. Public policy has a huge influence on multidimensional inequality -- though we see it most clearly when things go wrong...Government could achieve a lot simply by making fewer gross errors. If government can't redistribute fathers, it can reform policies that, in one way or another, drive many away from responsible fatherhood. Criminal-justice reform and education reform may be the most powerful anti-inequality weapons." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

PORTER: Want education dollars to make a difference? Invest early. "American students from prosperous backgrounds scored on average 110 points higher on reading tests than disadvantaged students, about the same disparity that exists between the average scores in the United States and Tunisia...Studies that have followed children through their adult lives confirm enormous payoffs for these investments, whether measured in improved success in college, higher income or even lower incarceration rates." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

MILBANK: The NRA disarms the press. "About 20 [NRA security guards] — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets. In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

ORSZAG: Smarts, wealth, and life -- the three-fer, and why it happens. "Better-educated Americans increasingly live longer than everyone else, and children from higher-income families in the U.S. are getting more education than other people. These are two of the most disturbing trends in the U.S., and it’s entirely plausible that they are related. Economists have recognized many possible connections between health and education, but so far they have done little to link the trends toward greater inequality in each area." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

In touch with your inner self interlude: Mapping emotions over a century through literary references.

2) Do our energy policies clash?

Why the World Bank has become a 'climate hawk.' "World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday said climate change was a “fundamental threat” to global economic development as he called for a major new push to reduce extreme poverty over the next 17 years...[T]he impact of climate change disproportionately threatens the African and Asian nations that would find it hardest to cope." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

NASA's James Hansen is retiring. Here's how he contributed to climate science. "One the country’s most prominent climate scientists is leaving the government to become a full-time climate activist. James E. Hansen says he will step down as head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies this week after 46 years at the agency...Hansen was one of the first climatologists to speak out about the potential dangers of man-made global warming back in the 1980s. It’s worth taking a look back at some of the more notable moments of his scientific career to see what he’s been saying about climate change over the years" Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Expensive batteries are holding back electric cars. Can that change? "One of the big reasons why electric cars have been slow to catch on is that batteries are still hugely expensive — usually around $12,000 to $15,000, or one-third the price of the vehicle — and can provide only limited range. So, will these batteries ever get better? That’s the big question. Some analysts are deeply skeptical that improvement will be quick or easy. In the newest issue of theProceedings of the National Academy of Science, Fred Schlacter has an essay on why batteries are fundamentally different from things like mobile phones or computers." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

...And how all our climate policies might clash with each other. "At the least, domestically produced gasoline and rapid advances in technology to make the internal combustion engine more efficient are likely to help the conventional automobile survive against competition from vehicles powered by electricity, natural gas and other cleaner alternatives." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

The public, on climate change: Zzzzz. "A new Pew poll shows the percentage who say that global warming is a “very serious” problem has slipped six points since October. While Pew reported an identical uptick in the number calling it “somewhat serious”–meaning that more than six in 10 respondents still call climate change somewhat or very serious — the decline in those who describe it in dire terms means that public attitudes are now around where they were in 2010, close to the lowest level of concern in eight years on the issue." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

More polling: Two-thirds back Keystone pipeline, belief in global warming trends upward. Ben German in The Hill.

Ernest Moniz is likely to get bipartisan backing as Energy Secretary nominee. "Moniz will be introduced by Brent Scowcroft, who was National Security Advisor to GOP Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who chaired the energy panel for years and did not seek Senate reelection in 2012...Moniz is expected to win Senate confirmation despite misgivings among some environmentalists, who have taken aim at his support for natural gas development and industry ties." Ben German in The Hill.

Will the U.S. become an oil exporter? "The U.S. energy industry is suddenly talking about something that was unthinkable a few years ago: exporting crude oil. Congress largely barred such exports after the 1970s Arab oil embargo in a step to protect U.S. oil supplies. But with domestic production booming, energy-company executives are questioning whether the U.S. needs every drop of petroleum it extracts...Opponents of the idea counter that allowing exports could push up prices at the pump for consumers and businesses, and make the U.S. more dependent on foreign oil." Ben Lefebvre and Alison Slider in The Wall Street Journal.

Adorable animals interlude: This owl is a people-person. Or people-owl. You get it.

3) Gun control stalls in Congress, moves in states 

What are the states doing about gun control? "Legislators have introduced more than 1,300 bills to change state gun laws, according to records kept by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based group tracking gun legislation. Here’s a quick review of some of the more notable proposals under consideration in states where gun laws are moving fast, based on state-level news reports and conversations with experts tracking the debate." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Background checks remain the key stumbling block for gun control. "Background checks, both advocates and independent researchers say, would have a bigger potential effect on gun violence than any other measure under consideration — including the much-discussed assault-weapons ban, which has little chance of passing in Congress. Proposed federal gun-trafficking laws and changes to mental health databases would have a marginal impact on gun violence, experts say." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

NRA-commissioned study supports armed guards in schools. "A 225-page study commissioned by the National Rifle Association has endorsed and amplified the gun rights group’s immediate response to the mass killing in Newtown, Conn.: that all schools in the United States should have police or armed staff members trained to confront a shooter...The National School Shield Report focuses on a host of possible safety measures, such as internal door security and perimeter fencing, but its central recommendation is that armed personnel should be posted in all schools...Those staff members should receive 40 to 60 hours of weapons instruction and other training, the report recommends." Peter Finn in The Washington Post.

April Fool's interlude: Improving mobile Internet usability for cats.

4) How the Medicare Advantage cut was cut

How insurers flipped a Medicare pay cut into a raise. "[T]he Obama administration reversed a proposed 2.3 percent pay cut for private Medicare plans, replacing it with a 3.3 percent raise. For health plans, this was a huge victory...Overall, the cuts are way smaller than what the Obama administration initially proposed. McDonald at Citi estimates that Medicare Advantage plans will see a 2 percent rate reduction, compared to 7 percent to 8 percent that analysts predicted with the initial rates." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Confirmation hearing set for Marilyn Tavenner, Medicare head nominee. "Tavenner has broad bipartisan support in Congress. Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has endorsed her nomination, saying he worked well with Tavenner when she led Virginia's Medicaid agency...Tavenner didn't even get a hearing when Obama first nominated her last year; she has been leading the agency since then on an acting basis." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Medical stories of America: The case of the $1,207 toenail clippingEzra Klein in The Washington Post.

Interview: North Dakota has only one abortion clinic, and it isn't going anywhere. Sarah Kliff talks with its director. The Washington Post.

The confused debate over Obamacare and insurance premiums. "That gets to the heart of what’s become a terribly confused debate over premiums in Obamacare. Vermont’s insurers didn’t have to change their products because their products were already very good. In other states, some of the insurance products will have to be upgraded, as they’re stingier. But Obamacare will help people pay for the better insurance...Did my premiums just “go up”? Or did I switch to a better insurance plan? For most people, this would be called switching to a better insurance plan." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

The link you're going to send to everyone right now interlude: A time lapse of a tunnel-boring machine.

5) The recovery, rising but shaky

Big rise in quantity of factory orders. "The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that factory orders increased 3 percent in February. That is a turnaround from a 1 percent decline in January and the biggest gain in five months. The increase was mostly a result of a 95.1 percent surge in orders for commercial aircraft. Orders for motor vehicles and parts also increased 1.4 percent." Reuters.

...But uneven factory growth emphasizes the uncertainty of recovery. "Volatile defense and aircraft orders frequently push overall U.S. manufacturing data up or down, but recent reports also show unsteady demand for other types of products. Outside of transportation products, factory orders were up just 0.3%. The fickle factory orders show the challenges the U.S. economy is facing as it slowly rebounds from the financial crisis that began five years ago." Eric Morath and Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Wonkblog plays oddsmaker: One of these 9 people will lead the World Trade Organization, and also who will be the next Fed chairDylan Matthews and Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Obama administration pushes banks to make loans to people with weaker credit. "[A]dministration officials say they are working to get banks to lend to a wider range of borrowers by taking advantage of taxpayer-backed programs — including those offered by the Federal Housing Administration — that insure home loans against default...The administration’s efforts come in the midst of a housing market that has been surging for the past year but that has been delivering most of the benefits to established homeowners with high credit scores or to investors who have been behind a significant number of new purchases." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Fannie Mae reports $7.6B in profit in fourth quarter. "Fannie Mae reported Tuesday that it earned $7.6 billion in the final quarter of 2012, capping its most profitable year in history and raising the prospect that the company will be able to survive without government support before too long...The company is expected to pay taxpayers nearly $60 billion in the next several months as Fannie’s long-term profitability becomes even more assured and the firm is forced to recognize long-standing tax assets that had no value when the company was deep in the red." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Comparing glass ceilings around the world. "[D]espite all the complaints about the glass ceiling, the United States is actually doing a relatively good job of getting women into high-achieving jobs...A new paper by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell argues that those policy differences may explain why the United States has fallen behind in women’s labor-force participation rates. But the paper also suggests that the same policy gap could explain why, paradoxically, women in the United States seem to have more varied and ambitious career paths open to them if and when they do choose to work." Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Why Amazon bought GoodReadsEzra Klein.

Expensive batteries are holding back electric cars. Can that change? Brad Plumer.

In 2011, only 15 senators backed same-sex marriage. Now 50 do. Dylan Matthews.

Wonktalk: Ezra vs. TwitterEzra Klein and Brad Plumer.

NASA’s most famous climate scientist is retiring. Here’s a look back at his workBrad Plumer.

The case of the $1,206 toenail clippingEzra Klein.

Who will be the next Fed chair? Here are Wonkblog’s oddsNeil Irwin.

How insurers flipped a Medicare pay cut into a pay raiseSarah Kliff.

The confused debate over Obamacare and insurance premiumsEzra Klein.

One of these 9 people will lead the World Trade OrganizationDylan Matthews.

North Dakota’s only abortion clinic isn’t going anywhereSarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

AP drops 'illegal immigrant' from StylebookRachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

House immigration bill will put forward 3 pathsAshley Parker in The New York Times.

Are corporations getting cold feet on tax reform? Rachael Bade and Jonathan Allen in Politico.

There are four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court, out of 11 seats, and why that mattersJuliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Obama outlines human brain-mapping initiativeScott Wilson in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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