June 30, 2013

Commentary: DOMA ruling upholds what voters believe

Conservatives are wrong to say the court's decision on gay marriage defied the will of the people.

(Continued from page 1)

What's happening in California, Michigan, and Minnesota is happening everywhere. "Thirty-eight states have affirmed the belief of their citizens that marriage exists between a man and a woman," Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., pointed out at the news conference. Her reliance on the past tense was telling. According to a report issued two months ago by UCLA's Williams Institute, "In the last eight years, every state has increased in its support for marriage for same-sex couples with an average increase of 13.6 percent. If present public opinion trends continue, another eight states will be above 50 percent support by the end of 2014." Based on the average rate of increase in support for gay marriage -- about 1.5 percentage points per year -- Nate Silver of The New York Times projects that by 2016, support will exceed 50 percent in 32 states. By 2020, all but six states will have crossed that threshold, and in all but two, support will exceed 48 percent.

The National Organization for Marriage also uses the past tense. "The vast majority of American voters have expressed with their votes their desire to maintain marriage as the union of one man and one woman," it argues. "That decision should be respected and left undisturbed."

But that old consensus has already been disturbed by the people themselves. In fact, they've trashed it. In last fall's state ballot measures, they voted 4-0 for gay marriage.

Every national survey shows the same trend:

In 1996, Gallup found that Americans opposed recognizing same-sex marriages, 68 to 27 percent. By 2004, the gap had narrowed to 55-42. Today, it has turned in favor of same-sex marriage, 53 to 45.

In 2003, the Pew Research Center found that Americans opposed allowing gays to marry legally, 59 to 32 percent. Today, they favor legalization, 50 to 43 percent.

In 2007, only 40 percent of Americans in a CNN poll said gay marriages should "be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages." Today that number has risen to 55 percent.

A year ago, in a CBS/New York Times poll, Americans opposed the legality of same-sex marriage, 51 to 42 percent. Now they support it, 51 to 44 percent.

As the people have changed, so have their elected representatives. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal institute involved in the Supreme Court cases, protests that "DOMA was hardly controversial at the time it was passed: Far from creating a partisan political divide, DOMA united Democrats and Republicans -- passing by a bipartisan 84 percent of Congress (85-14 in the Senate, 342-67 in the House)."

Again, note the past tense. Today, the Human Rights Campaign lists 54 senators and 184 House members as supporters of same-sex marriage.

Cheer up, conservatives. The court, at long last, has done what the people want. Unelected judges are no longer the nosy outsiders defying the country's values. You are.

William Saletan (@saletan) covers science, technology and politics for Slate.


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