On a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Reihan Salam argued that it’d be better for gay marriage’s “stabilty” if it was passed democratically rather than by court order. In a certain sense, he’s onto something. It’s almost tautological: if a majority of citizens in a democracy support gay marriage, we don’t have to worry about the majority undermining gay marriage.
To bolster his argument Salam and The Economist’s Zanny Minton Beddoes compare gay marriage rights to abortion politics. Salam and Beddoes suggest that without persuading a majority first and passing it democratically, gay marriage rights won’t seem as legitimate and we’ll be left with a tension similar to the one that’s followed Roe v Wade for 40 years. As you can see, although public opinion waxes and wanes in the short term, support hasn’t changed dramatically.
I don’t fully disagree with their case; it’d certainly be wonderful and especially validating if marriage equally was reached by popular vote. Yet, we don’t need to look at abortion or any other social issue for speculation.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered marriage equality in 2003. At the time, “50 percent [of the Mass residents] agreed with the justices’ decision, and 38 percent opposed it.” Nine years later the Massachusetts’ public isn’t unsettled by court-mandated gay marriage, risking its stability; instead, 60% now believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Living with equality has increased support to a 2 to 1 margin over opponents. Now, maybe it will be different in states like South Carolina where 20% of likely Republican primary voters think interracial marriage should be illegal! But the trends in all states seem positive any time marriage rights are expanded for race or sexuality. The most likely reason why?
I hope and am confident public opinion will continue to shift toward equality, yet if the Supreme Court gets there before voters do, there is no need to worry. We’ll just have to celebrate with our fellow citizens a bit earlier.