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Reading the gay-marriage tea leaves from reader comments

November 08, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Minnesota voters rejected a Proposition 8-style ban on same-sex marriage
Minnesota voters rejected a Proposition 8-style ban on same-sex marriage (Renee Jones Schneider /…)

How can you tell that same-sex marriage is gaining acceptance? I mean, aside from the three states that approved it Tuesday, the fourth that rejected a Proposition 8-style ban and the election of a pro-gay-marriage president? And aside from the numerous polls conducted throughout the years?

One place I've sensed a change is from you, the readers. Four and a half years ago, when I started writing editorials and blog posts about same-sex marriage, every posting was greeted by raucous reader debate -- often verbal knock-down-drag-outs -- on the comments boards. Many of them were from-the-gut rants about marriage to animals, the only right way to raise children, the attacks on their marriage (though they never said exactly in what way their marriages were threatened), and a wild-eyed but oft-repeated theory about conspiracies among gay couples to create more homosexuals. Opponents of Proposition 8 would try to respond with well-reasoned explanations, or with defiant anger.

No matter what, a post about same-sex marriage was guaranteed to give back in the form of comments galore. It seemed as though writing something about marriage equality wasn't even necessary; just posting the words "Today's topic is same-sex marriage. Now: GO!" would do the trick (although I never had the nerve to try it).

But things have changed markedly these last couple of years. As a legal challenge to California's Proposition 8 wound its way through the courts and ended in a stunning ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, the number of comments waned, in what could almost be charted as a straight line tilting downward. The wording, too, softened. The wild assertions became rarer and then almost nonexistent.

It's impossible to know for sure, of course, but it was as though, even if not that many people supported gay marriage, they'd been around the topic long enough to realize that life as we know it didn't fall apart in states that recognized the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. After a leading witness in defense of Proposition 8 was unable on the stand to articulate any way in which such marriages would harm the institution of marriage, those complaints seemed to fall away.

The comments even took on a generally more supportive tone.

There are plenty of vehement comments from readers, something we welcome. The Internet has given everyone a chance to get their ideas out there. But the most heated responses these days tend to be about taxes or genetically engineered food.

Today's topic is Monsanto. Now: GO.

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