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Challenging the 'inevitability' of gay marriage

If same-sex marriage is inevitable, a reader asks, why has it failed at the ballot box?

February 18, 2012

If same-sex marriage is inevitable, as Michael Klarman wrote in his Op-Ed article on Sunday, why has it been so unsuccessful at the ballot box? Reader Pat Murphy of Pacific Palisades raised that point in his letter to the editor published Wednesday:

"Michael Klarman wants everyone to think there's widespread support for gay marriage. Then why have voters rejected it in every state where it has been on the ballot, including recently in Maine and twice in California?

"In the few states in which it is allowed, it was the result of backroom maneuvering — such as in Massachusetts, where the legislature won't allow its residents to vote on the issue, or California, where judicial fiat has now overturned two elections.

"Because the public won't cooperate, Klarman cites polls that suit his opinion that gay marriage is inevitable. This reflects a mind-set that shows contempt for the democratic process."

Michael Klarman responds:

Yes, every state to conduct a referendum on gay marriage has rejected it. But public opinion on gay marriage has changed dramatically in the just the last few years. In the 13 states that passed constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage in 2004, support for the initiatives averaged about 75%. In the last two referendums on gay marriage — California in 2008 and Maine in 2009 — support was no higher than 53%.

In California, the margin of defeat for gay marriage decreased from 22 percentage points in 2000 to 5 in 2008. Gay-marriage supporters, who would probably win a referendum today in California, have sensibly concluded that another referendum is pointless if the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' invalidation of Proposition 8 is upheld. The first victory for gay marriage at the polls will probably come in 2012 in Maine, Washington, Maryland or perhaps all three.

Although Massachusetts has not had a referendum on gay marriage, public opinion there has shifted so overwhelmingly that opponents of gay marriage could not get even one-quarter of the legislature to support their constitutional amendment in 2007. When Republican Scott Brown, who had strongly criticized gay marriage in 2004, ran for Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat in 2010, he declared that gay marriage was "settled law."

Murphy writes that refusing to submit public policy disputes to popular votes "shows contempt for the democratic process." Nobody I know thinks slavery, racial segregation or religious freedom should be up for a vote. If we don't vote on whether to allow interracial marriage, why is it obvious that we should take a vote on same-sex marriage?

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