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Prop. 8 or not, a fast shift on marriage

August 11, 2010 |  4:35 pm

Just six years ago, then-President George W. Bush gay-baited his conservative base into turning out at the polls in November by cynically calling for an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage. Bush's strategy worked: That election, voters in 11 states overwhelmingly passed their own constitutional amendments recognizing only heterosexual marriages. Four years later, we Californians dealt gay Americans another setback by passing Proposition 8 (which, of course, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned last week). The message in 2008 seemed to be that while marriage equality was inevitable, gay men and women would have to wait perhaps a generation for public opinion to turn in their favor. 

I've never been mollified by the argument that marriage-equality supporters should temper their activism given that demographics are trending in their favor and will eventually yield positive results. Far be it for me or any other heterosexual to tell gay men and women that they ought to endure another moment of the indignity of second-class citizenship.

But it turns out that gays and lesbians may not have to wait much longer for that generational shift to take hold. A CNN poll last year showed that while there was a vast generational divide in public opinion on gay marriage, a relatively healthy 54% of Americans opposed recognizing same-sex nuptials. But a CNN poll released Wednesday shows that, barely more than a year later, a small majority of Americans -- 52% -- thinks gay couples should have the constitutional right to marry. 

The statisticians who read this blog can elucidate better than I how the difference in wording between the two polls may have affected responses; the 2009 survey asked if respondents supported legalizing gay marriage, whereas the 2010 poll addressed the constitutionality of marriage laws. But the results of the latest CNN poll provide further evidence that opponents of marriage equality -- including President Obama -- will emerge on the wrong side of history sooner than they think.

-- Paul Thornton

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