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Opening Arguments

Gainsaying the gaysaying


The following two items in my juxtaposition of the day do not compute. This one on public opinion:

Fifty percent of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages -- down slightly from 53% last year, but marking only the second time in Gallup's history of tracking this question that at least half of Americans have supported legal same-sex marriage. Forty-eight percent say such marriages should not be legal.

And this one on public action:

North Carolina has become the 31st state to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution, with voters banning same-sex marriage and barring legal recognition of unmarried couples by state and local governments.

How can the contradiction be reconciled? If so many people have begun to be OK with same-sex marriage, why do gay marriage bans almost always win at the polls, and usually by the kind of margin seen in North Carolina? The amendment passed 61-39 percent -- that, friends, is a Mourdock-beats-Lugar landslide of epic proportions.

When I am confronted by actual events that don't line up with theoretical projections, my tendency is to look for defects in the projections. (Of course, that is not a universal approach. Consider the climate change alarmists who keep using their computer models when the actual climate changes do not match their projections. And as Ronald Reagan famously said, an economist is "someone who sees something that works in practice and wonders if it would work in theory.") Why are the opinions in the poll so useless in predicting actual behavior?

One possibility is that people aren't telling the pollsters the truth -- they really still oppose gay marriage, but they don't want to be thought of as uncool, so they just lie. Another theory is that people really want to be for gay marriage, might even think they are, but can't quite cross that line when they actually have to decide. It also might be that posllsters are skewing the questions, either consciously or unconsciously, to get the results they want to get.

It's likely, I think, that many people answering the questions have contradictory feelings about gay marriage, giving in to the arguments for it one day but heeding the arguments against the next. Or maybe I'm just projecting. As I've said before, this is one of those issues on which my libertarian and conservative instincts are at war with each other. Sometimes I mirror Glenn Benck's attitutde -- gay marraige takes no money out of my pocket, so why should I care? But sometimes I worry that changing something that's been the accepted norm in almost every society throughout history would risk innumerable unintendended consequences.

I suspect that's sort of where President Obama is, if we can infer anything from his "I am evolving" declarations. Wish he would clarify it, though, maybe take us through his thought evolution. That would also erase the suspicion that he's really for gay marriage and always has been but just won't say so to avoid ticking off his liberal base.

Nah. That would be political, and Obama is above all that. What was I thinking?

UPDATE: Ross Douthat explores the polling-reality gap, quoting a paper that details a seven-point gap between what people tell pollsters and how they actually vote on the issue. Apparently, the gains in favor of same-sext marriage:

The first reason is that while the increase in public support for same-sex marriage over the last two decades has been astonishingly swift, it has not been irreversible. Instead, sudden bursts of legal momentum – mostly driven by judicial rulings, from Massachusetts to Iowa – have often prompted temporary backlashes.

[. . .]

This pattern suggests that Americans grow more resistant to same-sex marriage the more they feel that it’s being imposed upon them by an unelected judicial elite, and grow more supportive the more it seems to be gaining ground organically. A president is not an unelected judge, but a public flip-flop on the issue by the nation’s chief executive might feel like yet another elite attempt to pre-empt a debate that appears to be moving toward a resolution, but hasn’t quite been settled yet.

UPDATE No. 2: Say, didn't realize I had so much power over the president. Now he says he's in favor of same-sex marriage:

President Obama today announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, reversing his longstanding opposition amid growing pressure from the Democratic base and even his own vice president.

In an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts, the president described his thought process as an “evolution” that led him to this place, based on conversations with his own staff members, openly gay and lesbian service members, and conversations with his wife and own daughters.

Hmmm. Wonder if the voters will see Obama's support as "an elite attempt to pre-empt the debate"? We'll see.

Bonus quiz: What's the difference between "an evolving position" and a "flip-flop"?

Answer: One is a change of mind by a Democrat, the other by a Republican.