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Analysis: 5 reasons gay marriage is winning

First Published May 23 2014 08:31AM      Last Updated May 30 2014 03:16 pm

(Keith Johnson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Hofeling, left, exchanges rings with new husband Jesse Walker while being married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker outside the Salt Lake County clerks office, Friday, December 20, 2013. A federal judge in Utah Friday struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.
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Starting with the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, conservative activists concluded that the only solution to stopping gay marriage was a nationwide ban. A federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage has languished in Congress for years — and now Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, calls such a strategy "a politically ridiculous thing to talk about right now."

In addition, conservative groups resisted moves to compromise on a half-measure like civil unions; Perkins’ organization calls civil unions nothing more than "a slow-motion surrender." And that, said veteran gay-marriage proponent Jonathan Rauch, was a critical mistake.



"They set an impossible goal for themselves by saying from day one that the goal of success would be not one gay marriage on not one square inch of American soil, and that was never going to happen," said Rauch, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

That, in turn, strengthened the resolve of gay-rights groups, even if it meant passing same-sex marriage state by state, or mounting legal challenges one ban at a time.

"I don’t think a lot of gay people," Rauch said, "are really in a mood to say, ‘Let’s meet the other side halfway,’ because the other side has never been interested in meeting us halfway."

4. Religious influence rises — and falls

In 2004, popular support for same-sex marriage was stuck in the low 30s. According to the latest Gallup Poll released this week, that number is now at 55 percent. It’s now rare to see a poll that finds only minority support for gay marriage.

But another poll number may be more telling about the underlying cultural shift: A decade ago, 71 percent of Americans said religion was "increasing its influence" on American life. Today, nearly the exact opposite is true — 77 percent of Americans say religion is "losing its influence" on public life.

In short, Americans have concluded that while marriage may well be a sacred institution, couples tying the knot have to seek a marriage license at the courthouse, not the altar. With the moral influence of organized religion on the wane, more Americans have decided that there’s a difference between marriage rights — and all the legal and financial benefits that go with them — and matrimonial rites.

"Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage," federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled in striking down Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban. "However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection."

5. ‘Hateful and bigoted’

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing proponents of traditional marriage was a negative image that they were never able to overcome. While chafing at comparisons to racism and Jim Crow laws, the matriarch of the traditional marriage movement, Maggie Gallagher, concedes that her side has been labeled as "hateful and bigoted." It’s no accident that opponents of Proposition 8 — the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California — adopted the logo of "No H8T."

Some conservative activists say they brought it on themselves.

"There was the evangelical belligerence, often, in the last generation that spoke, for instance, about the gay agenda, in which there was this picture, almost as though there is a group of super-villains in a lair, plotting somewhere the downfall of the family," Moore told a gathering of journalists in March.

Conservatives also weathered a host of guilt-by-association charges, which were equally hard to dislodge. In Arizona, a bill that supporters said would protect religious freedom was conveyed as license to turn gays away from public businesses. Evangelical opposition to homosexuality was exported to Africa, which took the form of harsh laws to jail or even sentence to death known homosexuals.

In short, it was no longer popular or politically correct to stand against popular culture and a swiftly changing popular opinion.

"They showed no compassion for gay people; they didn’t offer any substitutes like protecting gay families or gay kids," Rauch said. "That lack of compassion came through. It took a little while to register, but the American public does not like lack of compassion."

 

 

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