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Religious Tolerance logo

Support for/opposition to same-sex marriage (SSM) in California

Webmaster's comments. (Bias alert)
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This topic is a continuation from an earlier essay

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Popular saying: "As goes California, so goes the nation"

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Webmaster's comments:

It is important to realize that data from the Field Research polls reflect the opinion of people who say that they would actually vote. Many say they will, but don't bother. Also, they are a snapshot in time, and results will probably change by the time of a future election day.

It is also important to realize that as support for SSM continues to increase, and opposition to decrease, polls are becoming progressively less reliable. That is because persons who are opposed to marriage equality are increasingly being regarded unfavorably -- sometimes even classified as bigots like racists, misogynists, etc. -- by the rest of the population. Thus, they feel under pressure to lie to pollsters when they call. This results in the margin of support for marriage equality being inflated by a few percent.

Any future proposition on same-sex marriage would probably repeat the events associated with Proposition 8 in 2008: it will be accompanied by another anti-SSM fear-based advertising campaign organized by social and religious conservatives involving the investment of tens of millions of dollars. Because of the effectiveness of the use of fear, It would probably reduce support for SSM, which would have made a proposition too close to call if voted upon in 2010-NOV.

Equality California wrote:

"Analyzing polling data and election outcomes from past campaigns on legal same-sex marriage, it appears that an effective opposition advertising campaign can drive down initial levels of support for same-sex marriage by about four percentage points from its initial -- pre-campaign advertising -- level. Thus, it appears that initial support for legal same-sex marriage should be closer to the mid-50s among likely voters in order to be able to confidently embark on a winning campaign to secure marriage equality at the ballot box."

The level of support for SSM is a moving target, typically increasing close to one percentage point per year over the past 35 years. Support in the future can be expected to continue to increase further as older teens who strongly support SSM become eligible to vote, and the elderly -- who are about evenly split on the matter -- remove themselves from the voting pool, by whatever path. A citizen initiative to repeal Prop. 8 and reinstate SSM might have passed in 2012-NOV and will almost certainly pass on any future election day.

By early 2013, a poll by SurveyUSA showed that over two out of three California adults now favor the availability of marriage for all loving, committed same-sex couples -- opposite-sex and same-sex. 1 It is difficult to see how even a massive advertising campaign could cause a future citizen initiative to uphold Prop. 8, preserve marriage inequality, and continue the ban on SSM.

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Why has the margin of support for SSM accelerated during the 2010's?

We speculate that there are two main causes for the rapidly increasing support for, and decreasing opposition to, SSM in California and the rest of the U.S.

  • Countless lesbians, gays and bisexuals in their teens and early 20's have risked spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse as they have come out of the "closet" and revealed their sexual orientation to other students, fellow workers, and family. Studies have shown that when a person realizes that a friend or family member is not heterosexual, that their opinion of lesbians, gays and bisexuals becomes much more accepting.

  • Extensive attention has been focused by the media on various drives for equal rights by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. For example:

    • On the national scene:
      • The federal anti-hate-crime legislation of 2009 augmented protections to all Americans from physical attacks motivated by hatred of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or degree of disability. However the law was attacked by many religious and social conservatives as being primarily a pro-gay bill. We speculate that the debate motivated many people to consider the inequalities experienced by the LGBT community and thus become more sympathetic to equal treatment of persons in that community.

      • During 2010-APR-15, President Obama signed an executive order that instructs almost all hospitals in the U.S. to allow spouses and partners of same-sex couples to visit them when hospitalized. The publicity associated with this directive included some emotional descriptions of lesbians and gays who were not allowed to visit their dying partners in hospitals.

      • The repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy during 2011 was widely covered in the media. Again, it probably triggered many adults to consider the merits of LGBT equality.

      • President Obama and a other Democratic political leaders announced their support for SSM during 2012-MAY. Support was included in the national Democratic party platform before the 2012 elections.

      • A great deal of national attention has been focused on SSM in 2013 because of the Windsor v. United States lawsuit which is attempting to have the U.S. Supreme Court declare the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. This law prevents the federal government form granting the 1,138 benefits and protections to married same-sex couples and their children that are automatically made available to opposite-sex couples.

      • More attention was generated by the Hollingsworth v. Perry case which is attempting to declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional and restore access to SSM by loving, committed same-sex couples in California.

      • The 2012-NOV elections brought more attention when SSM was legalized in three states via referendums: Maine, Maryland and Washington.

      • The momentum continued in 2013-MAY when the legislatures of three states Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island legalized SSM.

    • Within California:
      • On election day, 2008-NOV, after about 80 million dollars was invested in advertising campaigns promoting and opposing SSM, Proposition 8 narrowly passed, and terminated -- at least temporarily -- new same-sex marriages in California.

      • During 2010-AUG, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker issued a ruling in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case. He stated that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional because it violated the due process and equal protection clauses in the U.S. Constitution. This received extensive coverage in the media.

      • The appeal of Judge Walker's ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involved many stages. In 2012-FEB, a three-judge panel of the court upheld Judge Walker's ruling. The case was appealed to the full Court who elected to not review it. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court followed, and the court has accepted the case. Oral arguments were held on 2013-MAR-26. The Court handed down its ruling: that ProtectMarriage, the group that promoted Prop. 8 did not have standing to appeal the District Court's ruling to either the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. Same-sex marriages became available as of 2013-JUN-28. ProtectMarriage is attempting to make them unavailable again.

With every step achieved towards equality for the LGBT community, the next step becomes easier, until an acceleration affect builds up.

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Current public beliefs concerning sexual orientation:

There appears to be a major lack of a consensus among the public concerning sexual orientation:

  • Conservative Protestant religious leaders mainly base their understanding of homosexuality on their interpretation of about six biblical passages. These are often called the "clobber passages." The leaders generally teach that sexual orientation is chosen and changeable, that homosexual or bisexual orientation is abnormal and unnatural, and that same-gender sexual behavior is hated by God. They generally condemn all same-sex behavior irrespective of the nature of the couple's relationship. They often support and recommend religious and counseling agencies that attempt to change gays' and lesbians' sexual orientation.

  • The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a person's sexual orientation is generally fixed and not chosen. However, the Church considers it disordered and regards all same-gender sexual behavior as against the will of God. Their conclusions are based on their interpretation of natural law. Actual same-gender sexual behavior is condemned as a very serious sin that can rise to the level of a moral sin. Mortal sins cause the individual to be separated from God and subject to being relegated to the torture chambers of Hell after death for eternal punishment. The Church has programs in place to encourage gays and lesbians to accept their sexual orientation as fixed and to choose to remain celibate. This is a hard sell because it requires lesbians and gays to remain without a significant other in a sexually active relationship for the rest of their life. To them, this is a profoundly unnatural lifestyle.

  • Most liberal and progressive Christians have an entirely different interpretation of the same six clobber passages. They believe that the clobber passages actually condemn:
    • same-sex rape,
    • same-sex prostitution in Pagan temples or men using a bed belonging to a woman to engage in same-gender sexual behavior,
    • men sexually abusing boys,
    • heterosexuals engaging in sexual activity against their basic nature with members of the same gender, and
    • bestiality -- sex between humans and another species.

    They often conclude that the Bible says nothing about same-sex sexual activity, relationships, and marriage.

  • Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, other religious liberals, secularists, human sexuality researchers, mental health professionals, persons in social services agencies are nearly universal in their belief that sexual orientation is discovered, not chosen. It is fixed (or essentially always fixed) in adulthood, and is normal, natural, and morally neutral for a minority of adults.

  • Mainline Christians are divided, both within their denominations and within individual congregations. They also experience an urban/rural and geographical divisions.

One of the tragedies associated with sexual orientation is that persons of good will who hold these five very different belief systems could enter into dialogue and conduct studies that might resolve their differences. They could then convince the general public about the reality of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, we see no signs that such an effort is in the cards, with the exception of some activity within religious groups at the congregational level. Thus marriage equality will have to be resolved via court cases, campaigns to pass legislation at the state level, citizen initiatives etc. This is slow, expensive, and painful; it generates a lot of animosity.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "KPIX Poll: Californians Support Gay Marriage, Want Prop. 8 Overturned," KPIX-TV, 2013-MAR-25, at:
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Home page > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Couples > California > Polls > here

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Portions copyright © 2010 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-JUL-30
Latest update: 2013-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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