Are Republicans starting to change their position on same-sex marriage? Some gay marriage supporters think so.
“A 55 percent majority support marriage equality,” states a report accompanying a new TargetPoint-GQRR poll. “While young people are at the vanguard of change, this survey also shows increased support among older voters, Catholics, non-college educated voters, and Republicans.”
The poll results were presented at a Thursday kickoff event of Americans for Marriage Equality, a bipartisan group formed with the support of the Human Rights Campaign, a major gay rights organization.
The launch coincided with the one year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage and a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“Rather than uniform opposition, marriage equality now splits the right, with younger conservatives disagreeing with older conservatives,” says the report, titled “Victory in Sight.”
The group Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry (YCFTM) went a step further. “Recent polls show record-levels of support for the freedom to marry. This surge in support is only possible due to a major shift in Republican attitudes on marriage for gay couples,” states a Wednesday YCFTM memo. “We’re witnessing more than just generational turnover; conservatives are changing their minds.”
The memo says that 230 Republican state legislators have either voted for, endorsed or voted against repealing gay marriage. The figure comes from the American Unity Fund, a nonprofit that seeks to expand Republican support for gay rights.
“Marriage equality is legal in many of the 17 states because Republicans joined up and voted for it,” the memo continues. “Without GOP state legislators and voters taking a stand, many of these wins could not have happened. Democratic and Independent support alone wouldn’t have cut it.”
The TargetPoint-GQRR poll finds that Republicans still oppose same-sex marriage by a margin of 62 percent to 33 percent. Self-described conservatives oppose gay marriage by 69 percent to 27 percent — not far from where the American people as a whole stood when Gallup began polling on this issue in 1996.
But the pollsters point out that this means roughly a third of right-leaning voters — including 30 percent of Republican primary voters and 31 percent of those who voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election — now support same-sex marriage.
“These numbers are small,” acknowledged pollster Dave Walker of GQRR, adding they were nevertheless a big increase “from just five years ago.”
In 1996, the year Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act with strong bipartisan majorities, Gallup found that only 27 percent of the American people supported gay marriage.
The report found much stronger support for gay marriage among conservatives and Republicans aged 30 and under. The YCFTM memo also states, “A Pew poll out this month shows for the first time that more than 60% of Republican and Republican leaners under 30 support the freedom to marry.”
The TargetPoint-GQRR poll also found significant movement among the largest Democratic voting bloc that had traditionally opposed gay marriage. In January 2011, 65 percent of blacks said they were against gay marriage while only 24 percent were in favor. Three years later, 53 percent supported same-sex marriage while 41 percent were opposed.
In May 2012, Barack Obama — the first African-American president of the United States — declared his support for gay marriage.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, thinks any victory lap by same-sex marriage supporters is premature.
“NOM commissioned a nationwide survey of voters who cast ballots during the 2012 campaign. The survey was conducted by Kellyanne Conway’s firm, the polling company, on election day 2012,” Brown told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The survey found that 60% of actual voters agreed with this statement that ‘marriage is between one man and one woman only.'”
“Virtually every demographic group agreed with the statement,” Brown continued in an email, “including 86% of Republicans, 54% of independents and even 40% of Democrats; 66% of black voters and 57% of white voters; 52% of voters in the north, 62% in the mid-west, 69% in the south and 54% in the west; and 54% of those aged 18-24, 51% of those aged 25-34, 60% of actual voters age 35-44, 63% of those 45-54, 60% of those 55-64 and 72% of those aged 65+.”
This traditional definition of marriage also remains the law in 33 states, 29 of which have state constitutional amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Gay rights activists are still trying to change these laws through litigation, as well as electoral politics and persuasion, with more than 50 cases filed in 27 states.
Statistician Nate Silver predicted that even without a Supreme Court decision, gay marriage will come to all 50 states by 2024. “By 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage, with Mississippi being the last one to come around in 2024,” he wrote in 2009.
President Obama and 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, whose husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, still opposed gay marriage at that time.
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