While public opinion and differing state laws on abortion rights are sharply dividing the country, there are growing signs that most people agree on another once controversial issue: protecting intermarriage. of the same sex.
The US Senate voted on November 16, 2022 to begin debate on legislation that would protect same-sex and interracial marriage, making it legal regardless of where these couples live and what state law determines.
Senators voted 62-37 to advance the final vote on the Respect Marriage Act, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill.
The legislation would also repeal the 1996 law Defense of Marriage Lawa federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.
The US House of Representatives already voted on July 19, 2022 to enshrine same-sex marriage into law with a bipartisan vote: all 220 House Democrats voted in favor, along with 47 fellow Republicans.
i am a scholar of political behavior and history in the US I think it’s important to understand that bipartisan support for this bill marks a significant political transformation in same-sex marriage, which was used as a point of contention dividing Democrats and Republicans about 15 to 20 years ago.
But in recent years, same-sex marriage has become less politically divisive and has gained more public approval, fueled in part by former President Donald Trump’s general acceptance of the practice. This environment made it politically safe for almost a quarter of the Republican members of the House to vote to protect this right under federal law.
What makes opinions change?
Seventy-one percent of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, according to a July 2022 Gallup poll. In 1996, when Gallup first polled on same-sex marriage, the 27% supported the legalization of same-sex marriage.
This shift in public opinion has occurred despite growing polarization in the US on gun control, racial justice, and climate change.
What becomes, remains, or ceases to be a divisive political issue in the US over time depends on many factors. Changes in laws, changing cultural norms, and technological progress can shape political controversies.
My investigation, for example, it explores how Mormons were denied statehood by Congress in the Utah Territory, what would later become the state of Utah, until they abandoned their religious belief in polygamy. Polygamy was prohibited by US law, and known polygamists were barred from voting and holding public office. In the 1880s, approximately 20-30% of Mormons practiced polygamy. However, political pressure led the president of the Mormon Church in 1890 to announce that polygamy would no longer be sanctioned.
In 2011, 86% of Mormon adults reported that they considered polygamy to be morally wrong, almost in line with general public opinion.
Many political leaders, both left and right, were also largely hostile to same-sex marriage until the early 2010s.
Bipartisan support for same-sex marriage, a growing controversy
In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state must have a compelling reason to ban same-sex marriage, after a gay male couple and two lesbian couples filed a lawsuit that a state ban on same-sex marriage violated their privacy and equal protection rights.
Concern among conservatives that this legal reasoning would lead the Supreme Court to recognize the right to same-sex marriage led a Republican senator and congressman to file the Defense of Marriage Law.
President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in 1996 after 342, or 78%, of House members and 85 senators voted in favor of it. Polls at the time showed support among the general population for same-sex marriage at 27% overall, including just 33% among Democrats.
Seven years later, in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage. With a strong national majority of Republicans and independents opposing same-sex marriage, former President George W. Bush used conservative reactions to that decision to encourage voter turnout in 2004. The Bush campaign highlighted the amendments state laws to ban same-sex marriage, all of which passed easily.
Although voters prioritized other problems in the 2004 election, opposition to same-sex marriage helped Bush win re-election, while Republicans won seats in both the House and the Senate.
a political change
The legal and political landscape around same-sex marriage became much more liberal in the years after 2004.
In 2008, state courts in California and Connecticut struck down bans on same-sex marriage. Vermont became the first state in 2009 to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.
A major national shift occurred in 2012 when then-Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama openly supported same-sex marriage. This was a major change for both men. Biden had voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Obama publicly supported marriage between one man and one woman in his 2004 senatorial campaign.
In 2015, the Supreme Court shot down all national and state restrictions on same-sex marriage, making same-sex marriage the law of the land.
The trump effect
Trump’s lack of attention to same-sex marriage is a contributing factor in making it a less divisive issue. While Trump’s actual record on LBGTQ rights generally aligns with conservative Christian values, Trump said in 2016 that he was “fine” with legalizing same-sex marriage.
Still, despite the legality of same-sex marriage, many conservative Midwestern and Southern states deny other legal protections to LBGTQ people. Twenty-nine states still allow licensed professionals to perform conversion therapy on gay youth, a discredited process for converting LGBTQ people out of being gay.
More than 20 states allow discrimination both in housing and in public places based on sexual orientation.
respect for marriage
Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski, representing Alaska, are among 12 moderate Republican politicians who voted to advance the same-sex marriage bill.
“I have long supported marriage equality and believe that all legal marriages deserve respect,” Murkowski said in a statement on November 16, 2022. “All Americans deserve dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law.” .
However, some Republican leaders have grown bolder in their opposition to same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
These Republicans have said there is no need to codify federal law for same-sex marriage, as they do not believe the Supreme Court is likely to strike down federal protections for same-sex marriage.
Democrats first moved to protect same-sex marriage in federal law because Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion in Dobbs that the court should reconsider “all substantive due process precedents this Court, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” the latter being the case that legalized same-sex marriage.
But even though public opinion polls show a majority of people in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, including nearly half of Republicans, the issue could still be a risk for Republican politicians.
If the Senate passes the bill, which will have a final vote by the end of November 2022, Republicans will have to answer to their core conservative constituencies who largely oppose the practice. This could mean that Senate Republicans may have to consider splitting from their own base or moving away from moderate voters.
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