I always expected American attitudes against gay marriage to fade as young people who clearly support gay rights matured and the older people who don't, well, reach their end. I didn't expect that change to come so rapidly.
It's a country, in short, in which no fixed ideological orthodoxy holds sway, and attitudes on hot-button issues can and do shift over time, sometimes in surprising ways.
Take gay marriage, legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and now Iowa, with Vermont coming aboard in September. At its low, in 2004, just 32 percent of Americans favored gay marriage, with 62 percent opposed. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed -- the first time in ABC/Post polls that supporters have outnumbered opponents.
More than half, moreover -- 53 percent -- say gay marriages held legally in another state should be recognized as legal in their states.
The surprise is that the shift has occurred across ideological groups. While conservatives are least apt to favor gay marriage, they've gone from 10 percent support in 2004 to 19 percent in 2006 and 30 percent now -- overall a 20-point, threefold increase, alongside a 13-point gain among liberals and 14 points among moderates. (Politically, support for gay marriage has risen sharply among Democrats and independents alike, while far more slightly among Republicans.)
Americans also seem to be more supportive of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, which truly is a sea change. As the article said, the "close the border" crowd still has some cachet, however, and just half support banning torture of terrorism subjects in all cases. Those are a function of conservative demagoguery and cultural demonization - it's striking that this isn't working when it comes to gay marriage.
The AP's Liz Sidoti even claims that Democrats have an opportunity on gay rights as support grows.
In recent weeks, Vermont and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage, while New York, Maine and New Hampshire have taken steps in that direction. Polls show younger Americans are far are more tolerant on the issue than are older generations. For now at least, the public is much more focused on the troubled economy and two wars than on social issues.
In addition, over the past decade, public acceptance of gay marriage has changed dramatically.
It's the passage of Prop. 8 in California driving a lot of this, I feel. That slap in the face sparked a real movement with lots of activism that added to the national trend. It urged immediate action in other states, as activism in California bled over into other states. We're now seeing a national marriage equality movement, and I don't think Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine would have necessarily scheduled legislation without it. And when legislation passes, minds really do change. Because along with that legislation comes a debate, and when more and more states offer gay marriage in a legal process, you see more images of people who love each other, who don't deserve scorn. And even more minds change.