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Religious Tolerance logo

The Obergefell v. Hodges case before the U.S. Supreme Court
involving appeals of 4 same-sex marriage cases, from Kentucky,
Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee.

Part 28: 2015-MAY:
A public opinion research study that shows little
chance of a major backlash if the U.S. Supreme
Court legalizes SSM. This webmaster's opinion.
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We use the acronym "SSM" to represent "same-sex marriage."
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons
and transsexuals. "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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thumbs up imageA public opinion research study suggests that a backlash would be minimal if the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes SSM across the U.S.:

There is at least a potential for backlash when significant social change is being debated, and:

  • A substantial percentage of the public feel that a particular change should only occur if and when public opinion is shown to favor of it.

  • Others feel that the federal, state, and local governments should uphold individual freedom, liberty and equality even if substantial public resistance exists in favor of discrimination.

Today, this conflict is clearly seen between:

  • Many Republican politicians, conservative religious leaders, some members of the public, etc. who feel that individual states have the right to define who can marry within their borders even if their definition violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

  • Many Democratic politicians, more liberal religious leaders, most members of the LGBT community, most members of the public etc. feel that individual states have the right to define who can marry within their borders as long as their definition does not violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The conflict is often portrayed as whether states should be able to define who can marry. This is not accurate because people on all sides of the SSM question agree that defining who can marry is totally a state responsibility. Their core disagreement here is whether a state's definition must be compatible with the federal Constitution. Unfortunately, this conflict that is rarely discussed.

The conflict also extends to whether same-sex marriages that have been solemnized out-of-state should be recognized where the couple lives.

There has been a great deal of anticipation of a future serious public backlash occurring if the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage across the entire country. The Justices are expected to issue their ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges during mid-2015.

To evaluate whether a major backlash is likely to happen, a group of public opinion researchers decided to conduct a study. The team was led by Benjamin G. Bishin of the University of California, Thomas J. Hayes of the University of Connecticut, Matthew B. Incantalupo of Princeton University, and Charles Anthony Smith of the University of California. 1

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The study leaders reported that they examined:

"... backlash against gays and lesbians using a series of online and natural experiments about marriage equality, and large-sample survey data." 1

They reported that:

"We find no evidence of opinion backlash among the general public, by members of groups predisposed to dislike gays and lesbians, or from those with psychological traits that may predispose them to lash back. The important implication is that groups pursuing rights should not be dissuaded by threats of backlash that will set their movement back in the court of public opinion. ..."

"Fear of backlash may also serve to temper the enthusiasm of supporters of minority rights. Speaking in anticipation of court rulings on gay rights, for instance, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has repeatedly argued that:

'... heavy-handed judicial intervention ... appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict ...'

on the issue of abortion [access]. ... While substantial empirical work refutes the idea of opinion backlash following Roe v.Wade ... and
draws distinctions between abortion and gay rights attitudes, if fear of backlash causes policy makers to refrain from extending rights to minority groups or encourages the Court to issue rulings that lack the scope or force needed to protect them, it impedes their full incorporation in society. ..."

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The study leaders define "opinion backlash" as:

"... a large, negative, and enduring shift in opinion against a policy or group that occurs in response to some event that threatens the status quo. Backlash may be evidenced by changes in any of several aspects of opinion, including:

    • policy positions,

    • the intensity of feeling about an issue, or

    • the attitudes expressed toward members of the group."

They note that:

"Today much of the opposition to gay rights is concentrated among religious groups. Religious variables, for instance, better predict attitudes toward gays and lesbians than do demographics like race and ethnicity. ... In particular, research shows that white Evangelical Protestants -- the 'born again' -- are the staunchest political opponents of gay rights. ... The incorporation of the religious right into the Republican Party has, in turn, led to the widespread promulgation of anti-gay legislation nationwide. ... These findings suggest that white Evangelical Protestants are the group most likely to respond to events that precipitate backlash."

They concluded on the basis of their studies that, on equal rights for the LGBT community, there is:

"... little evidence of backlash among the general public or particular groups. The negative reactions we do observe are very small and fleeting. The important implication is that neither jurists nor politicians should use fear of backlash as a rationale for failing to act on questions of minority rights." 1

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thumbs up imageThis webmaster's predictions about the high Court's decision and how people might react to it:

As of early 2015-JUN, same-sex marriage was routinely available throughout 37 states, in some locations in Missouri, and in the District of Columbia. It was unavailable in 13 states, and all five territories. About 72% of the American population lived in a political jurisdiction which has already attained marriage equality.

For what it is worth, my best guess is that the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in late 2015-JUN, making marriage available to same-sex couples in the 13 remaining U.S. states, and five territories that still restrict marriage to a union of one woman and one man. I suspect that all four of the liberal Justices on the Supreme Court will join with Justice Kennedy to produce a 5 to 4 vote in favor of marriage equality. I believe that there is a possibility of a 6 to 3 split in favor of equality if Justice Alito fully accepts the interpretation that a ban on marriage by same-sex couples is really based on gender bias and not on bias against same-sex couples' sexual orientation(s). 5

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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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. Benjamin Bishin et al., "Opinion Backlash and Public Attitudes: Are Political Advances in Gay Rights Counterproductive," American Journal of Political Science, unknown edition, 2015, Pp. 1–24, at: http://scholar.princeton.edu/
  2. Most same-sex couples are either composed of two gays or two lesbians, both with a homosexual orientation. However, we use the plural here because some couples include one gay or lesbian, with a partner who has a different orientation: bisexual.

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How you may have arrived here:

Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2015-MAY-15
Latest update: 2015-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson
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