The California Supreme Court's ruling Thursday that overturned a state ban on gay marriage has thrust this culturally and politically charged topic into the national spotlight and into the minds of voters across the country. New polling data shows that Americans are generally becoming more accepting of homosexuality, but the figures also suggest that most people disagree with the California high court and still do not think gay marriages should be legalized.
In a recent Gallup survey, pollsters recorded a 56-percent majority against legalizing same-sex marriages. Four in 10 respondents said they supported it.
California is the second state after Massachusetts to legally recognize gay marriages -- and it's no coincidence that they're both located at the country's edges. Slightly more than half of respondents from the East and West Coasts said they support legalizing gay marriages, but more than 60 percent of people in the Midwest and South said gay marriage should not be legal. Respondents in the South were particularly staunch in their opposition: Nearly seven in 10 said same-sex marriages should not be legally recognized.
Calls for constitutional bans on same-sex marriages often accompany rulings on gay rights. Massachusetts' gay marriage law was met with an effort to constitutionally ban it, and the California ruling is already facing a constitutional challenge similar to what President Bush has advocated for on the national level. The poll finds Americans divided on this issue; about half favor this type of amendment and the other half oppose it.
When it comes time to vote, the poll suggests, people against legalizing gay marriage place more emphasis on the issue than those who support it. About one-quarter of same-sex marriage opponents said a candidate must share their view to get their vote; just 2 percent of same-sex proponents said the same. Overall, only 16 percent of respondents said the topic was a make-or-break issue for them.
Divisions over gay marriage aside, Americans are becoming more accepting of homosexuality, according to Gallup. A 56-percent majority said homosexuality should be considered "an acceptable alternative lifestyle," a number that has steadily risen from a meager 34 percent in 1982. Public support for gay marriage, however, has not seen the same increase -- for the past four years, opposition to same-sex nuptials has held relatively constant.
A third-in-a-row special election defeat on Tuesday may have left many Republicans fearing catastrophe in November. But what's led to GOP brand fatigue among voters? Many congressional insiders polled by National Journal gave Congress less-than-glowing reviews on its handling of the economy this year, but Republicans in particular showed skepticism about their party's response to the crisis.
Most Democratic insiders rated themselves positively on their party's response to harsh economic conditions this year. Twenty-six percent gave the party an A, while 50 percent said they earned a B. One respondent suggested that "Democrats deserve a B for effort and a C for results," but another argued, "There is only so much that Congress can do to address a weak economy."
Republicans insiders were more critical of the way their party handled the economy. A 43-percent plurality gave the party a B, but over one quarter said the GOP deserved a C and nearly another quarter gave the party Ds or Fs. One Republican respondent blamed party leaders for the poor performance, saying Bush "has shown neither sympathy nor policy initiatives that speak to the needs of the American people. And ditto (and more) goes for" House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.
That pessimism played out in widespread expectations that the GOP could lose big this November. A 38-percent plurality of Republicans predicted Democrats will gain up to nine seats in the House -- up 17 points since March. And nearly a quarter fear that GOP losses could be even more dramatic, between 10 and 19 seats.
"2008 is shaping up to be the worst year since 1974," one downtrodden Republican confessed. Democrats share the opinion that they are poised to make major gains in the fall, with a 40-percent plurality hoping for a gain of 10 to 19 seats, 36 percent expecting a one- to nine-seat expansion and nearly a quarter reporting that Democrats could gain 20 or more seats.