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Hard to miss the positive signals on gay marriage

March 01, 2013|By Karin Klein
  • The first couple to wed under New York state's same-sex marriage law, Connie Kopelov, age 85, sitting, and Phyllis Siegel.
The first couple to wed under New York state's same-sex marriage law,… (Los Angeles Times )

Is it just my imagination, or is California (and possibly a good part of the nation) turning a corner on same-sex marriage?

Certainly, the winds have been shifting for a while. Polls have shown increasing acceptance for years. That fits with findings that younger people are far more likely to be comfortable with gay rights than older people. President Obama, who during the campaign for his first term said he did not favor same-sex marriage — the same election in which Proposition 8 passed -- had changed his mind by his second campaign.

As I’ve blogged before, the change has been evident even in the comments that people leave in reaction to stories and columns on the topic. The nasty, vituperative snipes of 2008 have given way to a gentler, more rational and civil tone.

TIMELINE: Gay marriage chronology

But another floodgate seemed to open when three states passed same-sex marriage proposals in November. At the same time, voters in Minnesota paved the way for their Legislature to pass such a law.

So it’s not exactly shocking that Obama on Thursday filed a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing for Proposition 8 to be overturned. Earlier this week, dozens of prominent Republicans also signed such a brief. Perhaps the most surprising name among them was Meg Whitman, who when she ran for governor in 2010 supported Proposition 8 and said that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Was putting her name to the brief simply a signature of convenience by a past and possibly future politician attuned to the changes in public opinion? Possibly, but it’s just as possible that Whitman, given a chance to observe that same-sex marriage in no way harms the institution of marriage, simply rethought, reconsidered and saw the light.

In fact, that would make her — and the president — perhaps no different than the thousands of people who appear to have been changing their minds as well. A Field Poll released on Wednesday found that Californians are far more likely to support same-sex marriage than they were in 2008, when voters passed Proposition 8. At that time, 51% said they favored recognition of gay marriages. (Voters tilted somewhat differently, enough to pass the measure, after the heated campaign.) This time, 61% of state residents said they favored legalizing such marriages, almost twice as many as the 32% who opposed.

A decision from the court finding that laws banning same-sex marriage are a violation of civil rights would be preferable to a rehash of the Proposition 8 campaign. But it’s good to know that if the court does pave the way for gay marriage, most Californians will be ready for it. And if it doesn’t, they’ll be a lot more likely to vote for tolerance next time.

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