The election just over two weeks ago was a monumental victory for supporters of same-sex marriage, which became legalized through popular vote in Maine, Maryland, and Wisconsin. In addition, Democrat Tammy Baldwin was elected to the Senate from Wisconsin, becoming the country’s first-ever openly gay Senator, and a measure to ban same-sex marriage was overturned by voters in Minnesota. While legislators in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York had already legalized gay marriage, this November marks the first time in history that voters themselves—not judges and lawmakers—have been the instigators of change .
What is to be made of these election results? Many same-sex marriage supporters argue that this election represented a societal shift that had already been building throughout the twenty-first century. According to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2012, roughly half of all American adults support the legalization of same-sex marriage, up substantially from a mere 27 percent in 1996 . Despite the seemingly dramatic change in popular opinion, however, the debate is not so clear-cut. While most of those in favor of same-sex marriage see this past election as proof of a societal turning tide , the American public is far from homogenous in their support of this contentious issue. Although support for gay marriage has increased almost twofold in less than twenty years, approximately half of the population still opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Furthermore, a significant partisan and religious divide can be seen in the support and opposition of same-sex marriage. In the aforementioned Gallup poll, 65 percent of Democrats reported that they supported gay marriage, compared to just 22 percent of Republicans. Similarly, 67 percent of respondents who attended religious services “rarely or never” supported its legalization contrasted with only 31 percent of those who attended services “regularly or weekly” .
The partisan and religious split is illustrated further by Reverend Jesse Peterson’s post-election remarks, in which he declared that it was “a dark day in America” and that the America “has lost the idea of the order of God and the order of God is the family” . While Peterson’s beliefs are, of course, contentious, they serve as a reminder that the issue of same-sex issue remains dividing and incredibly controversial. Without focusing on what is “right” or “wrong” in this debate, it is important to recognize that America is split, and largely split along party lines.
The rift separating who oppose and those who support same-sex marriage legalization will likely grow even more defined as the Supreme Court announces its decision to either hear or deny review of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 on November 30. Six lower federal courts have already ruled the DOMA—which, despite its name, denies same-sex couples many of the rights and benefits of heterosexual couples—unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has yet to consider its constitutionality. Proposition 8, which went into effect in 2008 in California and effectively banned same-sex marriage, will also be evaluated on the basis of constitutionality if granted certiorari—the decision to be heard—by the Court . The Supreme Court’s response to both cases will likely be pivotal and have significant nation-wide implications, rendering it unlikely that the same-sex marriage debate will end anytime soon.
Like it or not, it appears as though the issue is here to stay, at least for the time being—and while society’s approval of same-sex marriage among American voters does appear to be increasing, so too does the polarization of the American electorate.
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