I’m old enough to remember an America where Boy Scouts could have water-pistol fights and most Republicans thought gay relationships were immoral. Which is to say, I’m more than a year old.
This … may not be the best day to cite research on people’s changing views of gay relationships, given that another recent bombshell study of attitudes towards gays was just debunked as having used faked data. We can trust a pollster as credible as Gallup, though.
On the one hand, that sudden spike in GOP support from the low 40s to a clear majority over the past 12 months seems suspicious. You’d expect the rise to be more gradual, as it’s been for Democrats over the last few years. You’d also expect some sort of backlash to mainstream acceptance of gays, however minor, on the right given how much media attention the clash between gay rights and religious liberty has gotten lately. A double-digit jump doesn’t add up, at least at first blush. On the other hand, it’s not like Democrats have been immune from sudden spikes in support; there are leaps of 10 and 11 points in the above data within the past 14 years and additional leaps of seven and eight points. More importantly, apart from a brief dip in 2012, Democratic belief in the morality of gay relationships has held steady after it reached a new high of 75 percent in 2011, confirming that sudden leaps are plausible and durable. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the last decade of polling on SSM, it’s that views of gays can change quickly and sharply within demographics, confounding expectations for gradual shifts.
This may also be an early sign that there’ll be no backlash if/when the Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage this summer. If anything, the publicity the Court case has gotten over the last few months may be driving Republicans on the fence to take sides on this issue, and more often than not the side they’re coming down on is the side of gays. This same survey from Gallup showed support for SSM among the wider public at a new high of 60 percent, with 37 percent of Republicans now in favor (up from 30 last year). It may be that, even among GOP skeptics of gay marriage, the normalization of gays in the media over the past 15 years has caused their moral opinions of homosexuality to change if not their belief that marriage, as a religious institution, should remain one for heterosexual couples only.
Actually, this might be the most shocking data in the survey:
For the first time, a plurality of Republicans think gays are born gay. And the thing is, despite the other shifts over time towards greater acceptance of gays, Republican opinion has held remarkably steady on this for the past 14 years — until now. There’s been movement here and there, but apart from a blip in 2013 when the gap between “born” and “made” narrowed to six points, the GOP has always seen a double-digit advantage for “made,” sometimes by upwards of 30 points. As recently as 2011, the gap was 21 points. Now, suddenly, it’s upside down. How come? You could argue that changing GOP opinion on this question is driving greater GOP support for the morality of gay relationships, but my hunch is that the opposite is true. As Republicans come to view gays as normal and gay relations as legitimate, they’re probably also instinctively more inclined to view their orientation as something natural, part of their genetic make-up and therefore not something that can — or should — be held against them or changed. Once you make the mental shift to seeing gay relationships as moral, this shift on the genesis of their sexuality (and the shift on SSM) follows. For some people, I mean, not all. Rick Santorum may say of Bruce Jenner, “My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody, not to criticize people for who they are,” but he’s probably not voting for SSM anytime soon. Then again, the mere fact that Rick Santorum — Rick Santorum — is floating soundbites like that goes to show how much even some stalwart conservatives have changed attitudinally.
No worries, though. If you’re a Christian and hoping the party will nominate a champion of your values, your moment has arrived: “If I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians that they’ve had in a long time.” Yuge.