With a number of US states in the news over reports of moves to provide for same – sex marriage (legislative initiatives in Washington, New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois, a voters’ referendum in Maine, and last week’s court victory in California), and high profile push-backs in Minnesota and North Carolina, it is easy to overlook what is happening (or not) in New Hampshire.
When the Republicans made major electoral gains in November 2010, regaining control of the State legilature, they were quick to announce their plans to repeal the legislation for marriage equality. Since then, there have been a series of delays. First, there came the announcement that although repeal was important, it would not take place in 2o11, but would wait until 2o12. Late last year, it was said that repeal would take place early in 2012 – then that was pushed back until “after the GOP primary”. The primary came and went – and the candidates most visibly opposed to equality were bottom of the poll. Then, it was said that repeal would take place some time in February. It has still not been sheduled.
A report on fresh opinion polling illustrates precisely why the political leadership is getting cold feet – repeal is a clear vote loser.
The University of New Hampshire Survey Center on Feb. 7 polled Granite Staters on same-sex marriage, as it has several times since 2009. This time, citizens were asked if they support or oppose repeal of the law. Results indicate 59 percent oppose and 32 percent favor repeal.
“It’s been the same each time we ask — about 2-1 in favor of same-sex marriage,” said survey center director Andy Smith. “It’s not an issue most people care about one way or the other. Proponents are very much in favor, opponents are very much opposed. But for most people, it’s a shrug.”
Smith said the polling numbers are so strong that, Republican majority or not, he predicts the repeal bill will not ultimately pass the N.H. House and Senate.
“I don’t see there’s going to be a real strong push to pull this through,” he said. Legislators “can push against public opinion somewhat, but if you have your eye on November, you don’t want to jeopardize your own seat and you don’t want to jeopardize party control.”
For Catholics, the religious dimension is of particular interest.
“It’s a time of change and the momentum is with gay marriage,” said Michele Dillon, chair of the sociology department at UNH, who specializes in sociology and religion.
Poll after poll shows what Cox calls the “millennials” — those age 18 to 29 — overwhelmingly favoring same-sex marriage. “The younger generation is perplexed that it’s even an issue,” Dillon said. “They’re just totally ahead on that.”
The UNH poll indicates 71 percent of those age 18 to 34 “strongly oppose” repeal of New Hampshire’s gay marriage law with another 14 percent somewhat opposing repeal.
In a PRRI poll taken last June, 62 percent of millennials favor gay marriage, including 49 percent who identified themselves as Republicans.
Dillon, who studies issues like gay marriage through the lens of both sociology and religion, said gay marriage is the new contraception issue for many Catholics, in particular. “Years ago, committed Catholics said ‘We can be good Catholics without adhering to the Catholic teachings on contraception,’” she said. “Now it’s happening with gay marriage. Most Catholics disagree with some aspect of church teaching.”
Today, Feb. 12, is World Marriage Day. Expect the bishops and other conservative sources to interpret this in terms exclusively related to what they erroneously think of as “traditional” marriage. Marriage, however, has undergone many transformations in Western history, and as I showed in discussing Pope Benedict’s praise of marriage to Italian politicians, the social benefits of marriage apply to all marriages – not only those approved by Catholic bishops.
We too, can celebrate World Marriage Day.