Gay Marriage: Have you changed your mind?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Supreme Court on Gay Marriage
Now, the future of marriage is in their hands: the United States Supreme Court.

Now, the future of marriage is in their hands: the United States Supreme Court.

THIS WEEK, the U.S. Supreme Court this week begins hearings on one of the most fundamental human institutions: marriage.

The cases at issue involve California’s gay-marriage ban and a federal law that limits marriage to a man and a woman. This raises lots of questions for OurValues readers. And, this week, I hope you will help us show the value of this kind of column by adding your own thoughts in a civil way. Let’s get a vigorous discussion going on these questions:

Will the high court legalize same-sex marriage?
What’s your view of the institution of marriage?

Have you changed in your mind about same-sex marriage?

Many people have changed their minds—and you might be surprised to learn why!

The court is considering these landmark cases at a time when public opinion has shifted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. One clear reason for the shift is age. The younger you are, the more likely you support same-sex marriage. For example, 70% of the Millennial generation (born after 1980) support legalizing same-sex marriage, while only 38% of the Baby Boom generation (born 1946–1964) also support it, according to a report released this month by the Pew Research Center.

But the story isn’t all about demographics.

Many Americans have changed their minds about gay marriage. In 2003, only 51% percent of Millennials favored same-sex marriage. Even members of the Silent Generation—the cohort most opposed to same-sex marriage—have changed their minds. Now, 31% of Americans born 1928-1945 support same-sex marriage, compared to only 17% in 2003.

Why have people changed their minds? The legal arguments revolve around the issue of equal rights. But is that the reason why people changed their minds? The No. 1 reason, according to Pew, is this: knowing someone who is homosexual. Almost a third (32%) said this was why they support gay-marriage now but once opposed it.

Respect for others is the second most-cited reason, given by 25% of those who have changed their minds and are now in favor. Respect for others is one of the ten Core American values, as we’ve discussed before. People who give this reason say they have grown more open, more tolerant, and gotten older and wiser.

How about belief in equal rights? Only 8% of those who had changed their minds gave this explanation as the reason why.

What’s your opinion of same-sex marriage?
Have you changed your opinion?
If so, why?


And, let’s show readers that we can have a vigorous, civil dialogue this week.

Gay Marriage: Is conservative support a ‘nightingale’ effect?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Supreme Court on Gay Marriage
Link to Ken Mehlman website.

Click Ken Mehlman’s logo, above, to visit his website.

CONSERVATIVES are lining up in support of same-sex marriage, including 131 key Republicans who signed an amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court brief for the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is hearing cases on same-sex marriage this week.

Are you surprised by this conservative support?

Ken Mehlman, once chair of the Republican National Committee and a George W. Bush staffer, likened it to “nightingale” behavior, in an interview on National Public Radio. The nightingale, he said, only sings at night when other nightingales sing. It’s a kind of bandwagon effect—when support for a cause reaches a tipping point, lots of people join in. Mehlman names Ted Olson, the lawyer who won Bush vs. Gore, as his nightingale. Today, Olson presents the case for same-sex marriage in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the interview, Mehlman outlined the conservative case for same-sex marriage: “…if you believe in freedom, if you believe in limited government, if you believe in family values, then allowing adults who love each other to form families is something that makes a lot of sense.”

I think we also see a “nightingale” or bandwagon effect in public opinion. As more people support legalizing same-sex marriage, it becomes more legitimate and socially acceptable to support same-sex marriage. Those who had been reluctant to speak out now feel safe to do so. And, as we discussed yesterday, many Americans have changed their minds about gay marriage, abandoning the opposition and voicing their support.

What do you make of the conservative support of same-sex marriage?

Do you buy their rationale—freedom, limited government, and family values?

What’s your opinion and why do you have it?


As we did Monday, let’s show readers that we can have a vigorous, civil dialogue.

Gay Marriage: Should the High Court decide for the nation?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Supreme Court on Gay Marriage
Warren Court that decided Brown vs Board of Education

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT SHAPING AMERICAN LIFE: This is the Warren Court that, in 1954, handed down Brown v. Board of Education. That landmark decision overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which had allowed state-sponsored segregation. The Warren Court ruled 9-to-0 that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”—shifting the civil rights movement into high gear.

Supreme Court watchers try to divine how the justices will vote, interpreting words, tones, and gestures. After hearings yesterday on California’s ban on same-sex marriage, the divinations suggest that the high court won’t make a nationwide ruling for or against same-sex marriage. Rather, it may leave the decision up to the individual states, allowing each one to experiment.

If that happens, will you be satisfied?

Earlier Supreme Courts have left other matters to the states—such as racial voting rights and desegregation—then later had to step in to make nationwide rulings.

If gay marriage is left to the states, there is one place—even in a state with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage—where the law doesn’t apply. Native American tribes. These are considered to be “domestic dependent nations.” They are sovereign nations, though not quite on par with, say, Canada. As a sovereign nation, they are not bound by state laws.

A case in point is The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in northern Michigan. The tribe is not bound by Michigan’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. Earlier this month, the Tribal Council voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Soon after, it performed its first marriage ceremony of two men.

Would you like the Supreme Court to make a nationwide ruling?

Would you be happier with state-by-state laws?


Let’s show readers that we can have a vigorous, civil dialogue.

Gay Marriage: Is an even higher court swaying our justices?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Supreme Court on Gay Marriage
Towering statue of St. Peter at the Vatican. Photo by Mo Ang Kio, released via Wikimedia Commons.

This towering statue of St. Peter stands guard outside the main basilica at the Vatican. Photo by Mo Ang Kio, released via Wikimedia Commons.

Our high court now has heard arguments about DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act that Bill Clinton signed into law. (In a startling admission for a former president, Clinton now recants his decision.) The Supreme Court will unveil its ruling in early summer. In the long wait until a ruling, analysts will examine every influence on the justices. Today, let’s look at one possible influence:

Does religion sway the court?

Before you say “No”—consider what one political scientist has found. The religious composition of the high court is atypical by historical standards. There are no Protestants for the first time in history. Six of the justices are Catholic, when the historical norm has been one (or none).

Religious affiliations may influence high-court votes, especially for Catholic justices, says William Blake, a political scientist. In an article published last year in the Political Research Quarterly, he analyzed the effect of religious affiliation on voting behavior between 1953 and 2007. This span includes both liberal Catholic justices and conservative Catholic justices (and liberal and conservative Protestants justices, and so forth).

Blake analyzed hundreds of voting decisions that covered eleven different issue areas that might be influenced by religious values.

Blake’s conclusion is that “Catholic justices vote in ways that more closely adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church than non-Catholic justices.” This means, for example, that a Catholic justice tends to take a liberal position on civil rights cases, but a conservative position on abortion.

All told, Blake found that Catholic justices are more likely than non-Catholic justices to take a liberal view on civil rights cases and criminal rights case. Catholic justices are more likely to take a conservative position on abortion cases, Establishment Clause cases (separation of church and state), and obscenity cases.

Blake emphasizes that the influence of religion is not conscious. Justices strive mightily to remain impartial. But even Supreme Court justices are human and their religious values can creep into their decisions.

Are you surprised by Blake’s findings?

How do you think religion will influence the ruling of marriage?


Gay Marriage: Do you have confidence in the high court?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Supreme Court on Gay Marriage
View of the U.S. Supreme Court from its West Terrace. Official government photo by the office of the Architect of the Capitol, released for public use.

View of the U.S. Supreme Court from its West Terrace. Official government photo by the office of the Architect of the Capitol, released for public use.

NOW, it’s all up to the nine justices! The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard arguments about two related “culture war” issues: same-sex marriage bans and the legal definition of marriage. The high court’s rulings expected in early summer will shape the rights, fortunes, and misfortunes of many.

So far this week, we’ve discussed how public opinion is shifting in favor of legalizing gay marriage, the “nightingale” or bandwagon effect, whether the court will throw up its hands and leave decisions to the states, and the extent to which the justices might be subconsciously swayed by their religious affiliations.

Today, we consider an overarching question: Do we have still have confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court?

Favorability ratings of the high court are close to the all-time low, according to a Pew poll earlier this month. Three of ten Americans (31%) say their overall opinion of the institution is very or mostly unfavorable. Only 52% have a favorable overall opinion. Back in July 1994, 80% of Americans had a favorable opinion of the high court. Starting in 2010, favorability ratings fell below 60% and have remained there since.

After the Affordable Care Act decision, ratings shifted dramatically by political party affiliation. Two-thirds of Democrats had a favorable rating, compared to just over a third of Republicans. Now, however, the two parties are closer. Fifty-six percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court, while 47% of Republicans feel the same.

What’s your opinion about the current U.S. Supreme Court?

Are you confident the court will make the right decision?