Insistent media messages claim surging and overwhelming public support for redefinition of marriage but recent numbers from major surveys and the Census Bureau tell a very different story.
In late September, a Pew Center poll found less than half of respondents – 49% to be exact – saying that they “favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally” – a sharp five point drop since February. Without the biased wording of the question, gay marriage might have received even weaker public backing: if a survey asks you if you want to “allow” other people to do something they say they ardently desire, you’d have to be deeply committed to traditional matrimony to say no. Had Pew asked “Do you want your government to redefine marriage so that male-male and female-female couples are treated identically to traditional marriages?” the response to sweeping change could have been still less favorable.
That’s particularly obvious in light of another surprising result in the poll: a full 50% of respondents agreed with the statement that “homosexual behavior is a sin,” including 77% of black Protestants and a crushing 82% of white Evangelicals. Moreover, the overall percentage of those viewing homosexuality as “sinful” has been soaring, not declining: it’s up from 45% in May of 2013. Considering the demographics in the 31 states that have so far resisted the nationwide push for gay marriage, it’s tough to imagine that these electorates, with their heavy concentration of Evangelicals and blacks, will endorse government sponsorship of same sex couples at any time in the near future.
Supporters of gay marriage consider such resistance irrelevant and cite the “tidal wave” of same sex couples who have already legalized their unions in the nineteen states that have changed their laws to back what sloganeers call “marriage equality.” In fact, the Census Bureau recently agreed to begin counting same sex unions as official marriages in their new figures of married vs. single people, and many experts predicted that these freshly minted gay couples would give the institution of matrimony a visible boost. Alas, the incidence of homosexual wedlock remains so rare that the overall percentage of adults who are married continued to decline –to 50.3%, an all time low --according the 2013 American Community Survey. At the same time, “same-sex cohabiting partners made up an even smaller share of 2013 households than in 2012.”
The official government figures suggest that 252,000 households were headed by same-sex married couples in 2013 –less than one-half of one percent of the overall figure of 56,000,000 marriages counted by the Census Bureau. Despite the fact that a majority of the US population and an overwhelming majority of the gay population now live in states that authorize same sex marriage, the numbers suggest that well below 4% of gay adults are currently married. That compares to slightly more than 50% of straight adults – an indication that the nation remains a long way from “marriage equality.” The heavily-hyped gay marriage tidal wave remains in actuality little more than a trickle.
One more aspect of the Pew Center survey similarly suggests that the march toward same sex marriage may not prove as inexorable as its boosters suppose. The pollsters posed the question: “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?” Some 72% believed they saw declining influence for religious faith, but by an astonishing margin of 4 to 1 they identified this trend as a “bad thing” rather than “a good thing.” In other words, the American public sees religion with a diminished role in our national culture but they overwhelmingly prefer to see its old power restored or enhanced.
As recently as November, 2001, the figures on religious influence amounted to a virtual mirror image of their status today: in the aftermath of 9/11 and the “turn toward God” that many observers discerned, Americans saw faith increasing its impact rather than reducing it by a lopsided edge of 78-12%. That advantage quickly evaporated along with the popularity of the Bush administration, while the relentless push toward gay marriage fed the growing perception that traditional faith had lost its clout. The same way that a few big events in the early years of the new century, and shifting political trends since that time caused radical reverses in attitudes toward religion’s role, it’s hardly inconceivable that public impressions could change again.
A few victories for supporters of traditional marriage, in court rooms or at the ballot box, could well convey the idea of resurgent religiosity. A clear majority of church-going Americans, after-all, currently affiliate with denominations that passionately oppose redefining marriage: Catholics, white and black Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews. The great bulk of such believers tell pollsters they want a more vigorous role in public debates for their churches, synagogues and mosques. Just under half of all Americans already oppose gay marriage, 50% consider homosexuality sinful and close to 80% think it’s a bad thing for religion to lose its influence. With those figures in mind, it’s wildly premature to herald the movement to redefine matrimony as a sweeping and unstoppable force, and to write off all resistance as a futile gesture.