With the yapping pack dogs trying to keep the neighborhoods excited over same-sex marriage and gay adoption, it is easy to lose perspective. It is as easy to assume that Americans are just too conservative to be compassionate and rights oriented.
Hark, from the forest emerges the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press! Unlike politically motivated groups and pundits, the Pewites don't skew their questions nor do they report only what a particular viewpoint wants to show.
Their most recent major poll has the catchy title Less Opposition to Gay Marriage, Adoption and Military Service. It also covers trends in abortion views, particularly meaningful in light of the South Dakota double-dog-dare abortion law.
Looking at years of shifting opinion, seem to have climbed to the ridge about same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples, according to national polls. For progressives and civil-rights activists, this is heartening-and-discouraging news. The short of it is that Americans have not yet come to terms with gays, but are headed there. In this case, familiarity breeds a benign indifference. That's a huge hike up the mountain from disrespect and hate.
Note: The first chart appears in the report. We derived the others from the data.
If you are doggedly anti-gay, anti-SSM, anti-SS adoption or some combination, you can pretend that the numbers still favor you. In fact the latest figures still show a majority of Americans opposed to SSM -- 51% to 39% who favor SSM.
However, this is far cry from the August 2004, presidential campaign crap fest. Then the numbers were 60% opposed to 29% in favor. Note too that this was when that dreadful Massachusetts okayed SSM for its citizens.
The trend is solid and it reflects numerous other polls. Americans are getting used to the idea of SSM. Many know SS couples or perhaps work with one member of an SS couple.
When gays were largely hidden and silent, it was far easier to pretend one did not know any. They were the other, unworthy of consideration, much less rights. Now, such commonplace families as two lesbians or gay men -- perhaps married in Massachusetts or in a Vermont or Connecticut civil union -- may be raising their kids and appearing quite natural at it. It is harder to disrespect what you know.
The report is full of goodies with many ways to present them. Some differences are very predictable, like the SSM opposition by political party.
It can't be a terrific surprise that more Republicans strongly oppose SSM than Democrats do. Here though too, the trends across even the GOP voters is decreasing disapproval. Interestingly enough, self-identified independents showed the variation from 2003 to the uptick during the election and back down. They are much closer to Democrats. This suggests that the hard line haters will have increasing problems keeping non-Republicans interested in opposing gay rights, including SSM.
It will be fascinating to see whether this will map to decreased contributions to anti-gay, pseudo-religious organizations like Focus on the Family. TBD.
Also, the odd blip in the age showed up again in these polls. The oldest group -- over 65 -- was the most anti-SSM. Even here, the trend is away from strong opposition -- 36% in 2003 to a high of 58% in the election, to this month's 33%.
So on age, we see pretty much straight rise in anti-SSM sentiment as people get older. Now you have to wonder whether the Republican types can keep a stream of old folk interested in their negative issues.
Likewise, on adoption, the trends all go steadily one way, in favor of same-sex couples. As always, women seem much more concerned about the kids involved and don't let political feelings enter in as much. In 1999, 62% of men opposed SS adoption and 53% of women did. In 2006, the numbers were men, 52% opposed and women 44%. It doesn't take a whole lot to see that long-term, kids are going to win.
You can check out the full study to see the same sort of trends as in other civil-rights-related polls. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to favor gay rights of all types, including adoption. The older you are, the more you will oppose gay rights, including adoption.
The last two charts show the overall shift in approval rating for SS adoption. Seven years ago, there was a solid, very significant opposition to gay adoption --- 57% opposed, 38% approving and 5% undecided. This year, the figures are statistically tied -- 48% opposed, 46% approving and 6% undecided. The margin of error makes it a wash.
There is no reason to suppose that the public approval ratings will do anything but continue on their paths. The facts are that the SS couples that are marrying, entering civil unions, and adopting are not hurting the kids, are not threatening any aspect of society, and are plain folk. Actually, they may be better than plain folk. They have self-selected and, if anything, are role models for society at large.
Overall, we see a steady change favoring adoption. Americans are also much more comfortable with the idea of gay parents than gay spouses.
When you want to create an other, a pit of monsters, trying to convince your minions that the obvious good guys are something else has to be tough.