Attitudes change on same-sex marriageHere’s a short quiz: Who said the following about his vote supporting a ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation?
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Here’s a short quiz:
Who said the following about his vote supporting a ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation?
“I take a lot of crap for that vote” from conservatives. “The way I see that may be informed by just friendships I’ve had, people I grew up with (in Wisconsin) who didn’t choose to be gay. It wasn’t an orientation they decided to experiment (with) or choose. It’s just who they are. They were just created that way.”
• Scott Walker
• Paul Ryan
• Sean Duffy
It’s a tough question because it’s a common sentiment nowadays. About 40 percent of Americans now believe being gay or lesbian is innate — a belief (one I share) that has helped cause an historic, incredibly quick shift in public opinion about same-sex marriage. At least 50 percent of Americans now think it should be legal — twice the number just 16 years ago.
Women, Democrats, the nonreligious and the young are big proponents. So are independents. Old men? Not so much. And Republicans?
“Certainly, I think that it would be a far more difficult issue for a Republican (politician) to push” than a Democrat, said Charles Franklin, visiting professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School.
Only 22 percent of Republicans surveyed nationally said same-sex marriages should be legal versus 65 percent of Democrats, according to Gallup’s most recent numbers. And yet, there are good reasons for Republican politicians — who are supposed to be for individual freedom after all — to start thinking hard about coming out in support.
Yes, I happen to believe it would just be the right thing to do. But I also believe it would not be the political death sentence most Republicans fear. While some Republican voters might stay home, Republican politicians might pick up some independents and folks who believe church really should be separate from state.
It’s true supporting gay marriage would not help Republicans overall at the polls right now, but it also wouldn’t hurt them all that much. Gay marriage is not an issue that motivates opinion-hardened voters the way abortion does.
In fact, President Obama’s recent support convinced at least some African-Americans to shift their own opinions, according to Franklin.
The issue is a rare one on which politicians can sway opinion. Plus, the New York Times recently reported, Paul E. Singer, a conservative billionaire hedge-fund manager with a gay son, recently started a new “super PAC” to encourage Republican candidates to support same-sex marriage and fend off attacks from opposition groups.
We will eventually see a high-profile Republican come out in support of gay marriage — most likely in a purple district or state in the north.
Speaking of Wisconsin, the quote up top is from Paul Ryan in 2009 — although you’d be forgiven for guessing otherwise. Both Walker and Duffy have proved themselves more than comfortable with openly gay staffers or friends.
Ryan turned down an interview request and I have no idea what the congressman — who has voted for constitutional amendments banning gay marriage — thinks in private on the issue. One thing all Republican politicians need to think about, however, is the future. Fully two-thirds of Americans under 35 support legalization of same-sex marriage — and while the issue might not motivate voters all by itself, it is one of the things that causes people to think of themselves as either Democrats or Republicans or something else.
There is a real long-term danger for the right here. Once a person starts thinking about himself or herself a particular way, it’s hard to ever get them to change their minds, or their votes. And right now lots of young folks — because of the antiquated Republican opposition to full equality for people who happen to have a different, innate sexual preference — are having a hard time imagining themselves as Republicans.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.