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May. 1 2009 - 12:51 am | 159 views | 2 recommendations | 54 comments

Gay Marriage: The Storm IS Coming

Same Sex Marriage

Image by SFBart via Flickr

Sullivan talks of a sea change.

TPM sees a “tipping point.”

Yglesias detects a “feedback loop.”

Everyone’s excited about a new ABC News-Washington Post poll showing more people in support of gay marriage than opposed to it: 49% to 46%. A full 53% say that gay marriages valid in other states should be recognized in their own states.

This is big. But it’s also of a piece with a general trend toward support for gay marriage that’s been going on for a while now — a trend that anyone who’s looked at the data knows is strongly generational (young people support gay marriage while older people are resistant).

I have my own many-times-stated views on the gay-marriage debate (for it — gay marriage, that is, not so much the debate), but here I want to look at what’s happening with public sentiments in a more theoretical way. In particular, I want to make the argument that we may be starting to see a “bandwagon effect” that will significantly increase support for gay marriage in the next few years.

The bandwagon effect — relatively well-established in social and political science — is when voters are influenced in their opinions or votes by which side they perceive as having majority support or being the “winning” side. While partisans tend to remain committed, more undecided voters react to two basic impulses: wanting to follow the herd and assuming that the majority of people must have information that they don’t.

Some significant demonstrations of the bandwagon effect include:

* In a 1994 study, Robert K. Goidel and Todd G. Shields found that Independents are twice as likely to vote for the Republican candidate when the Republican is expected to win. When the Democrat was expected to win, independent Republicans and weak Republicans are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.

* A study during the 1992 presidential election found that polls predicting that Bill Clinton would win could move Republicans to vote for the Democratic candidate.

* A 1993 study out of Canada found a significant bandwagon effect (5%-7%) on the issues of abortion and Quebec’s constitutional future.

The question, then, is whether this is happening on gay marriage.

The first question, of course, is whether there’s a pronounced trend toward public support. Despite a misinformed editorial from National Review earlier this year (one which will go down in history along with the magazine’s pro-segregation editorials of the 1950s), the trend is clear.

To statball Nate Silver:

As this chart of major polls on gay marriage and civil unions makes clear, support for both is on the rise. Civil unions are pretty clearly above the 50% mark at this point. The new ABC News-Washington Post poll is probably a little on the high end, but gay marriage has clearly come a long way as well.

So, is gay marriage picking up steam, or is this going to be an extremely gradual process?

Well, as Silver mentions in his post, gay marriage has gained about 8 points since 2003’s Massachusetts court decision; civil unions have gained about 13 points. Now, the civil-union data doesn’t go back very far. But that 8 point gain over six years for gay marriage is better than the roughly 6 point gain that gay marriage saw in the nine years since 1994.

The line for gay-marriage support may not be soaring. But it’s getting steeper.

(And, it was pulled down for a little while by the backlash against the Massachusetts decision.)

But will support for gay marriage accelerate?

Things are certainly going better than they did with interracial marriage, legalized by the Supreme Court in 1967. Just look at this chart from Gallup:

Does it shock you that the lines here only crossed around 1991? That we’re only at 77% approval today? That the rate of change averaged 1% per year?

Well, civil unions are getting way better than 1% per year; gay marriage was under 1% and is now over it.

What’s more, politicians within the Republican Party who hope to have a future in national politics, like Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, are starting to come out loudly in favor of civil unions (at least) and the idea that the GOP should give up its quest against gay marriage.

Whether or not some people want to call it media bias, the message going out to the average voter on the fence is that this is the way the wind is blowing — anyone who’s not on board will be left behind.

You’re seeing panic on the part of the anti-gay-marriage forces because they realize this storm is coming. There have been a few factors at play:

* The slow and constant replacement of the old by the young

* The introduction of the idea of gay marriage as a concept in public debate (a huge hurdle at the beginning was how alien the entire concept was)

* The introduction to actual gay couples as marriages and civil unions happened and the world didn’t end

Add to this a growing sense that there’s a bandwagon forming… well, I don’t think there’s any way to quantitatively predict such things. And there are obviously a lot of people who will remain opposed out of a combination of religious belief and homophobia.

But I think the anti-marriage folks are right: A storm IS coming.

Now that it’s here (or at least very close), perhaps the most effective thing advocates of gay marriage can do is: declare victory.


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  1. collapse expand

    Polls vary:


    I think it’s also worth mentioning that there is this geographical region in the United States commonly referred to as “the south”. In “the south” people tend to be vehemently opposed toward government redefining a thousands year old sacred institution.

    Anyway, I’m beginning to think that the ideal resolution for all this is to take the word “marriage” completely out of the legal lexicon. As a person seeking a traditional marriage, I really couldn’t care less what it’s called on some legal document filed away in a courthouse. My church deems it a marriage, and that’s all the validation I need.

  2. collapse expand

    Most people I speak to who aren’t openly gay activists support gay marriage in a way that I can only describe as ‘looking the other way’. They say ‘It’s not my business’ or something like that and then say they’re basically fine with it. What I hear there is that they’re taking what they see as the ’stance of least resistance’. These opinions are based more on fear of peer unacceptance or persecution than they are honest opinions.

  3. collapse expand

    I don’t think you’re going to see support increase, I think it’s more an issue of growing indifference, that works for me.

  4. collapse expand

    If marriage is sacred, why not let it be performed by a church (some will let non-traditional marriages be performed, others not)? Let the government issue civil unions.

    Both marriage and unions would provide the same legal rights in financial areas, but not in social areas.

    Progressives always push separation of church and state. Why not in this case practice what you preach? Leave morals to the church – stop pushing your secular world upon them.

  5. collapse expand

    I wonder how many, after reading your title on this post Ryan had the song “It’s raining men” go through their head (age might have something to do with that).


  6. collapse expand

    Europe is way ahead of us on this one, as they advance toward a truly multicultural society without Christianity’s foot on the brake. Multiculturalism means you’re allowed to marry opposite-sex or same-sex according to your cultural preference, and the folks on the street are allowed to throw rice or rocks, according to their cultural preference.

    • collapse expand
      Anna D

      Replying to dave (12:04 PM), yep, Europe is way ahead of us. And in about 25 years, Europe wil be an Islamic sharia-state and just like in Iran, there won’t be any same sex marriages in Europe anymore. The US won’t be very far behind. Just read Bruce Bawer’s and Matrk Steyn’s works. As Christianity goes, so goes western civilization.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand
    Paul A'Barge

    Bit of a fan of the old bandwagon are we?

    Well, I have one for you: Carrie Prejean.

    Oh look. The bandwagon is going in the other direction. What’s up with that?

    See ya.

  8. collapse expand
    Paul A'Barge

    the Bandwagon …

    This is the new spin, folks. It’s called a talking point.

    The gay zealots are going to repeat this stuff over and over again until (as they hope) enough people believe them.

    Spin it back. Proposition 8, in California no less.

  9. collapse expand
    The Fop

    It’s a shame that proponents of Gay Marriage have absolutely no understanding of why many people are opposed to it. Has it ever occurred to any of you that those of us who are against it are against it because it’s not a law that would apply strictly to Gays? Same sex marriage would be legal for the entire population.

    Unlike the Gay community which has “married” itself to bisexuals and the trans gender crowd, under one big GLBT umbrella, many people make a clear distinction between Gays/Lesbians and bisexuals. We believe that a certain percentage of people are born gay, and being in a gay relationship is normal and natural for these people. However, we also believe that bisexuals are just deviant heterosexuals.

    We believe that people get lured into bisexual experiences in many different scenarios. Ever since the glitter/glam rock craze of the early 1970’s, bisexuality has been promoted as something that’s cool and trendy amongst artists, musicians, college students, etc. It’s a way for people who are part of a certain crowd to show how liberated and open minded they are.

    These bisexual experiences don’t lead to serious bisexual relationships, because there’s no such thing as a true bisexual who is equally capable falling in love and being in a long term relationship with either a man or a woman. It’s all about hedonistic sex, breaking taboos, and peer pressure.

    The percentage of people who are Gay/Lesbian remains the same regardless of what a society’s attitudes toward sex are. But in a sexually permissive society, the percentage of people who engage in bisexuality will be significantly higher than in a sexually strict society.

    If same sex marriage is legalized, it will be like society telling people that being married to someone of the same sex is perfectly normal, not just for Gays/Lesbians, but perfectly normal for EVERYONE. Add to that, school children being taught that having two mommies or two daddies is every bit as normal as having a mommy and a daddy. The end result is that future generations will be much more likely to engage in bisexuality. This will lead to a return of the decadence of Ancient Rome.

    To to all Gays/Lesbians, our opposition to Gay marriage isn’t about you. It’s about the rest of the population. You may eventually win this battle, and in the long run, the 95% of the population that’s not Gay will suffer for it.

    • collapse expand

      What a load of crap.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      And another point, acceptance of homosexuality in ancient Rome was not something that developed in the later days of the empire, it was the norm throughout the history of both the Roman Republican and then empire (as it was the norm throughout most of the ancient world). To blame the fall of the empire on the gays and or bisexuals is just another example of your bigotry, as is your entire post. Frankly what you wrote is pretty damn disgusting.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand
        The Fop

        Gays/Lebians make the argument that they are born that way, an argument that I agree with. So if homosexuality was accepted in the ancient world, what’s your point? Are you saying that because it was accepted there were more Gays/Lesbians? How would acceptance of something lead to more people being born Gay/Lesbian?

        I accept the existence of homosexuals. I have no problem with it. I just don’t want heterosexuals engaging in deviant behavior by imitating homosexuals. I don’t want society encouraging this.

        If you think this makes me a bigot, go ahead and call me whatever you want.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      So let me get this straight: you’re ok with same-sex marriage as long as it’s between homosexuals but not if it’s between bisexuals? What about a bisexual man and a bisexual woman? Isn’t that a “traditional” marriage? Or is it a neo-pagan opposite-sex non-traditional marriage? It’s hard to keep up with all these new terms.

      Same-sex marriage would be legal for the everyone, just as opening up your own business is. Just because it’s legal to do doesn’t mean people are going to do it just for the sake of doing it. They’ll do it because they want to do it. The Fop seems to imply that if same-sex marriage were legal (which it should be) then straights will be so confused they’ll be marring against their will just because they can. Makes no sense to me.

      The anti-marriage faction have somehow branded themselves as pro-marriage by citing tradition’s role in marriage. It’s always interesting to see where their traditions start, or rather where they stop looking for traditions. Our current thoughts on what marriage means are not “a thousands year old sacred institution,” as Reggie1971 wrote. It was deemed a sacrament in the 1500s.

      Some look to the Bible as the source of marriage’s supposed one man-one woman roots. But have you ever read the Bible? Plural marriages were the norm, and many of those wives were taken either by force of given as treasure.

      So let’s look at marriage for what it really is now: a private matter that no one should be denied. Your church doesn’t need to be involved any more than it would be involved in the marriage of two people from a different faith.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Gerry said: “So let’s look at marriage for what it really is now: a private matter that no one should be denied. Your church doesn’t need to be involved any more than it would be involved in the marriage of two people from a different faith.”

        Gerry, if it’s a private matter, then government shouldn’t be involved. If you think it is a government matter, then it is public, not private. I agree that it should be private, and so I’d like to see government get out of the marriage business altogether.

        Let governments issue civil unions to everybody (straight or gay), and return the M word to the private sphere.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          The government is nominally involved in marriage. You get a license and that’s it. They don’t deny marriage to any straight couple (except for kin). Marriage gives couple certain rights, and the government needs to know who’s married to make sure the couple have those rights.

          Switching to civil unions doesn’t solve your issue with marriage, it just changes the name. What may be needed is the elimination of those rights that automatically come with marriage and have individuals name another person–life partner, brother, friend–as the person with those rights.

          Maybe if I have a couple of drinks I’d be thinking more clearly. But I hope my intent comes through.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand
        The Fop


        Are purposely trying to mangle what I’m saying? I never said that legalizing same sex marriage would lead to heterosexuals marrying members of the same sex. What I said is that if society treats same sex marriage as being normal for EVERYONE, then over the long haul, more people will engage in bisexuality, which I view as a form of sexual deviant behavior, as I don’t believe that there are people born with an equal capacity to fall in love and be in long term relationships with either men or women.


        You never answered my question. Where are the millions of bisexuals who go back and forth between serious, long term relationships with women, and serious, long term relationships with men? If they were out there, the media would be running all sorts of stories about them in order to encourage tolerance of bisexuals, the same way that the media does everything in their power to encourage tolerance of Gays/Lesbians. These people don’t exist.

        I guess you also must have trouble reading, as I went out of my way, on my original post, to say that I think that there’s nothing deviant about homosexuals being involved in homosexual relationships. It’s the (so called) bisexuals that I have a problem with.

        The only comment I made about Ancient Rome is that bisexuality was very prevalent. Is that a false statement? All your angry replies have absolutely nothing to do with any of the arguments that I’m making. But if it makes you feel better to lump me together with religious Christians who think that all Gay/Lesbians are gonna burn in hell, go right ahead.


        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          No, Fop, I was trying to make fun of what you said because it’s ridiculous.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Fop, why is bisexuality so abhorrent to you? So homosexuality is okay because “people are born that way” but consenting adults choosing to engage in consensual encounters with others of the same and/or opposite sex are deviants?

          First of all this really makes no sense, second of all I find your ignorance astounding. Why do you care what people do on their own time? How does the existence of bisexuality negatively affect you?

          In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand
      RR Ryan

      Suffer how, exactly?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Someone has to say it: THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

      It has been conclusively proven that allowing gays to marry will lead to chickens marrying toasters! And after THAT, only Dog knows what will happen!!!!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    Alternatively, there is a pretty constant replacement of the young by the old and it is usually young people who grow old, surprisingly. What would be really nice is, when they lose, advocates of gay marriage would accept it and not harrass and intimidate those who oppose them. Of course, that would depend on the advocates of gay marriage being believers in democratic civility, and not a bunck of group-think bullies.

  11. collapse expand
    The Fop


    I never blamed the fall of the Roman empire on Gays or bisexuals. I simply made the point that in pagan societies that had no rules regarding sexual conduct, bisexuality was much more prevalent. I don’t want to live in a society where bisexuality is rampant. Sorry if you think that’s disgusting.

  12. collapse expand
    Liberty and War

    “Gay Marriage is Multiculturalism”
    No it isn’t. One is a logical extension of the American core value of “live and let live”, the other is a suicidal loss of pride in one’s own culture and values.
    Letting same-sex couples marry is a trend you can draw directly from the First Amendment’s demand for separation of Church and State.
    Letting Muslims censor religious protest on the grounds that multiculturalism and peace is preferable to liberty and war will turn us all into boot-licking dhimmis.

  13. collapse expand
    The Fop


    Instead of calling me names, why don’t you make a logical argument against what I’m saying?

    Who exactly does the “bisexual community” consist of? From what I can tell tell, it’s just a bunch of people who engage in flings, threesomes, and orgies.

    If 5% of the American population is Gay/Lesbian, then that means there’s 15 million Gays/Lesbians. Are you implying that there’s millions of bisexual Americans who go back and forth between serious, monogamous relationships with women, and serious, monogamous relationships with men?

    Show me some data to back this up before you call me bigoted or ignorant.

    • collapse expand

      It’s 10% of people that are gay by most studies, I have no idea where you come up with your 5% figures. And you’re bigot because you think people don’t conform to your ideas of sexual morality should be denied the same rights as those who happen to be of the majority. That is the definition of bigotry.

      And how you come to know the sexual behavior of those who are bisexual is something I don’t even want to ponder, but I think it’s a safe bet you know just as much about that as you do about the fall of Roman Empire. And consider yourself lucky, bigot was the most mild thing I could think of to call you.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  14. collapse expand

    Actually, if you look at Roman history, it was when the dominant culture of the Empire became more sexually conservative, and the tide was turning against open homosexuality, that the Empire fell. It also fell AFTER the (forced) conversion to Christianity. This tired story about sexual decadence leading to the fall of Rome is not only incorrect, I also fail to see why it is relevant.w

  15. collapse expand
    Julian Sanchez

    Wow, is that 10% number still circulating? No, the Fop is right about one thing: reputable studies that look at persistent behavior put it around 5%. The 10% was drawn from Kinsey’s work in the 60s and as I recall, included pretty much everyone in the sample reporting some same-sex experience. I don’t think serious researchers have used it as a serious estimate of the gay population for a long time.

    That said, the rest of his argument is incoherent. Suppose he were correct that many self-described bisexuals are either experimenting straights or gays taking a tentative step out of the closet. If the argument is that those people aren’t actually going to pursue long-term relationships with anyone not of their primary gender of attraction — if, indeed, they’re claimed to be mostly attracted to the image of experimentation and openness as an alternative to staid monogamy — exactly how is gay marriage supposed to have an effect on them?

  16. collapse expand

    speaking as a gay man, I have to tell you the 10% figure was never the conclusion of “most studies”, and pretty much all of us agree that the true number is much lower. Probably 5% is about right.

    Don’t waste time tangling with bigots. They don’t reform, they just die off eventually.

  17. collapse expand

    Brian said: “It’s 10% of people that are gay by most studies, I have no idea where you come up with your 5% figures.”

    The figures really are close to 4-5% You can find one source here:


    That, of course, doesn’t mean those 5% don’t deserve equal rights.

  18. collapse expand

    The Fop said: “I don’t want to live in a society where bisexuality is rampant.”

    Um, it is “rampant” in this society. Does that mean you don’t want to live here? Try Iran. Your preferred moral standards are enforced there.

  19. collapse expand

    like all the in the tank MSM polls, it’s a crock of what the MSM wants the public to think everyone esle supports. I would have supported gay marriage had it ever been put on the ballot in my state, but not anymore. After seeing the thugs from the Prop 8 carry on and people like Perez Hilton, they lost my support. Don’t like what the majority voted for? So they harrass, bully, threaten and behave like the scum of the earth. They did more damage to their own cause than anything ever could. They changed my yes to a no

  20. collapse expand

    I must admit that Fob gave me one of the biggest laughs this week. He’s hilarious. What is even more hilarious is that he’s serious. Wow! Who knew that if gay marriage was legal that everyone who isn’t gay would be rushing off to do it. Notice how going to Synagogue is legal and thus everyone is becoming Jewish. Same principle I guess. : )

    Apparently the only reason most people are heterosexual is because they couldn’t have a same-sex marriage. I must wonder why some really crazy and funny straights believe that heterosexuality is so unappealing that hoards of straights are just waiting for the first excuse to abandon it. Bizarre.

  21. collapse expand
    The Fop


    Show me where I said that if same sex marriage was legal that everyone would be doing it? What I said is that by legalizing same sex marriage, society would be sending a message that same sex marriage was perfectly normal for EVERYONE, and that this would, in due time, lead to an increase in people engaging in bisexuality.

    Julian Sanchez,

    I never said that legalizing same sex marriage would have an effect on those who are already engaging in bisexuality. I said that it would lead, in due time, to more people engaging in bisexuality.


    Yes, bisexuality is much more prevalent today then it was fifty years ago, because now it’s considered cool and trendy. If same sex marriage is legal, bisexuality will become even more rampant. That’s what I want to avoid.

    I’m still waiting for someone to point me in the direction of a story on either “Nightline”, “60 Minutes”, “20/20″, “Newsweek”, “Time”, etc, etc, about bisexuals who, over the course of a long adult life, have been in multiple serious, monogomous relationships with both men and women. If they were out there, we’d be hearing all about them.

    I know lots of homosexuals, and lots of people who have had bisexual “experiences”. I’ve yet to meet someone who spent five years in serious, monogomous relationship with a man, then the next seven years in a serious monogomous relationship with a woman, then the next fifteen years with a man, and is now currently with a woman. I contend that these people don’t exist.

    Is there anyone who is willing to address this point, or would you rather just call me names?

    • collapse expand

      “I know lots of homosexuals”

      Seriously doubt that!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand
        The Fop

        Why do you doubt it? Because I don’t march lock step with your views, which automatically makes me a hateful, bigoted, redneck?

        I live in NYC too. I’m a musician, my wife went to art school. I smoke grass and have long hair. I’ve seen practically every movie by every notable foreign film maker, from Fellini to Wim Wenders to Almodovar. I listen to everything from Mozart to Coltrane to Roxy Music. I dine at all the best outer borough ethic restaurants (let me know if you want any recommendations) in the company of many left wingers.

        But I guess you think that’s all lies too. Still waiting for you to address my basic point about the absence of bisexuals who, over the course of a long adult life, have been involved in multiple serious, long term, monogamous relationships with both men and women.

        I eagerly await your next one sentence long put down.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  22. collapse expand

    Well, actually, I DO know people who have had long term relationships with both men and women. In fact, I know several who fit this category. What this anecdotal evidence has to do with any of your completely unsupported hypotheses is less clear. Please identify the basis for your belief that gay marriage would “in due time lead to an increase in people engaging in [sic] bisexuality.” This is just an ipse dixit. It presupposes a lot of things that you haven’t proved or even explained. Whether you “smoke grass” or not, you don’t have a very good argument.

    • collapse expand
      The Fop

      I’m sure there’s plenty of homosexuals who were married to members of the opposite sex who eventually came out of the closet, got divorced and got involved in a long term homosexual relationship. I’m talking about people who, over the course of their adult life, have had several long term relationships that alternate between opposite sex and same sex.

      If you know people like this, they sure are keeping a very low profile. You would think that for every loud, vocal, gay couple that’s been together for many years, and is fighting for the right to get married, there would be an equal number of bisexuals who are just as loud and vocal about the fact that they’ve been free to marry their opposite sex partners, but not their same sex partners. If support for same sex marriage is steadily increasing, wouldn’t having these bisexuals telling their stories to as large an audience as possible increase support for same sex marriage even further?

      If heterosexuals are a distinct group, and homosexuals are a distinct group, shouldn’t bisexuals, who fit the decription of the several people that you know, also be a distinct group that should be making their voices heard and explaining their own unique plight? Are they just too shy to speak up? I’m sure Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer would love to interview them. Where are they all hiding?

      Legalizing same sex marriage for the entire population will lead to an increase in people experimenting in bisexuality for the same reason that legalizing marijuana will lead to more people experimenting with marijuana. When society condones something for EVERYONE, more people will be more likely to give it a try. The glorification of gay culture has already led to an increase in bisexuality over the past 40 years.

      Have you ever hear that song by some female singer called “I kissed a girl (and I liked it)”? The character in the song had never kissed a girl before. But she tried it and liked it. Why did she try it? Because over the past 40 years our liberal controlled popular culture has been telling people that bisexuality is cool and trendy.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I'm a freelance writer and blogger based in Brooklyn, NY. My background is mostly in politics. I've worked on the editorial boards of the New York Sun and New York Post. In 2006, I wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party" (Wiley). I've also done my share of freelancing, for places like the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Reason, and RealClearPolitics.

    These days, I'm interested in humanity's ever-expanding understanding of its own irrationality. Hence, this blog.

    Comments, questions, news tips, creative verbal abuse, etc. can be sent to: editor-at-ryansager.com.

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