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On same-sex marriage/civil unions, the air is leaking out of the tire

July 2, 2009

Last month Texas Lyceum, a non-partisan, business-oriented group, released one of its periodic polls on current issues, and the results for the most part were what one would expect in a conservative state. By margins of about 2-to-1, Texas opposed any further bailouts for automakers or banks. An even bigger margin – including a majority of whites, blacks and Hispanics – supported the concept of a voter ID requirement.

 But on one issue, the poll did raise some eyebrows. According to the survey, a majority of Texans would permit some form of same-sex union to be recognized: 25 percent favor same-sex marriage and 32 percent would allow civil unions, while 36 percent oppose either arrangement. Although Democrats and independents were more liberal on this issue than Republicans, a thin Republican majority – 14 percent for same-sex marriage, 37 percent for civil unions – now favor one arrangement or the other.

That indicates that Texans are more conservative than the rest of the country on this issue, but not dramatically so. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted at about the same time showed that 33 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage, 30 percent would permit civil unions and 32 percent oppose any legal recognition of same-sex or lesbian couples.

 This national poll also showed opinions on the issue are shifting back and forth: In a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in April, support for same-sex marriage was at 42 percent. That decrease in support could be a result of the rising visibility of the issue: In June, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed a bill which made his state the sixth in the country to allow same-sex marriage.

The fact that attitudes in Texas aren’t greatly out of line with the rest of the country doesn’t portend any big changes in the law in this region of the country, any time soon. If same-sex marriage/civil unions had been polled last month in Tennessee or Alabama, opposition to either one would probably have been significantly higher. But it may be an indication that as a political issue which can easily get traction, the air is slowly leaking out of the tire.

Most of the states, and all the Southern states, have passed some form of Defense of Marriage Act, and all the Southern states except North Carolina have passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. This makes it less, not more likely that conservative candidates in these states will get much mileage out of the issue than they have in recent years. It’s much more likely that opposition to same-sex unions will galvanize votes in states like New Jersey or Pennsylvania, where changes in current laws are a greater possibility.

None of this is to say conservative candidates won’t be able to raise money and garner endorsements on the issue well into the next decade. But it’s noteworthy that the strongest opposition to gay marriage in nearly every poll comes from African-Americans, who aren’t likely to swing behind candidates who are conservative on other issues.



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