With coffee in hand, you turn on the news one morning to discover that the country you live in has resoundingly rejected your right to marry the person you love. It is a stunning coast-to-coast victory for anti-gay proponents, and a crippling defeat for equality and human decency.
The hangover of the 2004 election wasn’t limited to voters’ approval of George W. Bush’s two wars and failed economic policies, the GOP also pulled off a successful mobilizing campaign that saw eleven states approve constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah, and Oregon (yes, Oregon) all successfully coded discrimination into their state constitutions.
In 2006, following a sea of support in favor of Democrats in Congress, another seven states voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and my state of Virginia (also my first time in the voting booth) voted to oppress and deny the rights of friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.
In the wake of 2004’s massacre, a 47% majority favored a federal ban on same-sex marriage and only 33% of Americans polled in a national Newsweek survey supported marriage rights. The anti-gay propaganda machine was in full force, capitalizing on existing homophobia and mobilizing a powerful army of gay rights opponents.
Fast-forward seven years. In a national survey released by Pew earlier this week, 45% of Americans support marriage equality for gay citizens, up from 42% in 2010 and 37% in 2009. Opposition remains at 46% (the narrowest margin in Pew history), down from 48% in 2010 and 54% in 2009. 51% of independents support marriage equality, up drastically from 37% in 2009. Broken down by geographic regions, the northeast and western United States remain decidedly more progressive than midwest and southern locations. Bolstered by these remarkable and undeniable trends, support for marriage equality is expected to eclipse opposition for the very first time within the year.
“The trends here show that opposition to gay marriage is becoming a less and less acceptable position through the public more generally. It is not merely the young who are shifting views. While individual states are certain to vary widely in the balance of public opinion, the national shift is so striking and so regular that it is hard to imagine this issue will remain in doubt for much longer,” writes Pollster.com co-developor Charles Franklin. “As a majority emerges in support of gay marriage, the political issue will be state by state repeal of the various “defense of marriage” amendments and referenda that passed in 2004-2006.”
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, and the Distrcit of Columbia today recognize either gay marriage or civil unions, and a number of states are currently in the middle of legislative processes to legalize equality (Maryland in particular is one house vote and one governor’s signature away from legalizing marriage). Numbers genius Nate Silver estimates that ten more states will join the party by 2013, and a new report from the Human Rights Campaign lists seventeen states where gay marriage has majority support, compared to zero states in 2004. Conservative figures including Cindy McCain, former first daughter Barbara Bush, and Dick Cheney have come out in support of marriage equality, too.
Barring a sweeping Supreme Court decision before then, 2012 may very well be the year when voters for the very first time come out strong in support of equality. Eight years after millions of Americans voted to strip their fellow citizens of basic human rights, voices of reason have spread like wildfire. This trend is unmistakable and it is unlikely to fade. It’s a new dawn in America, and blue skies are ahead.
“I think it’s clear that something like same-sex marriage – indeed, almost exactly what we would envision by that – is going to become normalized, legalized, and recognized in the culture. It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that,” – Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.