Has Public Opinion Shifted Under the Gavel?: Obergefell After One Year

Has there been a shift in public opinion following the Obergefell decision? If there has, it hasn't been in the pro-gay marriage direction.

By Cathy Ruse Published on June 23, 2016

Last June five Justices of the Supreme Court ruled that no state of the Union could define marriage as a man-woman institution. This nullified the law of most states, and the individual votes of 50 million Americans, not to mention thousands of years of human history.

Has public opinion shifted under the weight of the gavel? If so, it is not in the direction of acquiescence.

Conventional wisdom says the law is a great teacher, and indeed, when the Court created a constitutional “right” to abortion, the country’s opinion on abortion shifted considerably in its favor (twenty-five years later the momentum would shift against it).

The same cannot be said about homosexual marriage, according to the annual Gallup poll on moral issues released last month.

Since 2001 the Gallup organization has asked Americans about the acceptability of a range of “moral issues.” For each, the question is asked: “… [do you] personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong?”

Ten years ago, most Americans viewed “gay or lesbian relations” as morally wrong, by a margin of 51-44. In 2008, the acceptability measure rose steadily until, in May of 2015, 63 percent of Americans said same-sex relations were morally acceptable. Days later the gavel came down and the right to same-sex marriage was found in our nation’s Constitution (somewhere in the invisible ink).

Now it has been one year since the Obama administration aimed a bank of spotlights on the White House alighting it in the colors of the gay-pride rainbow. Surely those approval numbers are still climbing. Isn’t basically everyone on board at this point?

Apparently not. In fact, the Gallup results show that moral approval of “gay or lesbian relations” has actually declined. It is down 3 percentage points, while the “morally wrong” measure is up by 3 points. In terms of total population, about 7.5 million people have turned against the cause du jour since Obergefell. That’s a greater number of Americans than those who identify as homosexual.

When the question was first put to the people in state ballot measures over a decade ago, the people voted to keep the institution of marriage as it had always been — state after state, in every region of the country.

In the months leading up to the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, when same-sex marriage began to be legalized in some states, many in the media spoke of a “shift in American attitudes,” using phrases like “tidal wave” and “sea change.” But this was an illusion. Homosexual marriage was indeed gaining a foothold, but not by action of the people, rather by liberal judges who nullified their votes.

One month after the Obergefell ruling, an Associated Press poll showed support for gay marriage had dropped six percentage points from just a few months before. Polls by Ipsos/Reuters and Gallup following the ruling also showed a decline.

Now, even after a year, Americans show no willingness to adjust to the new paradigm.

The recent Gallup survey is likely understating this reluctance. Note that it asks about “moral” right or wrong. Sadly, the word “moral” is fraught with negative meaning today.

Consider also that the question is about “gay or lesbian relations,” not gay marriage. Americans are quite willing to tolerate behavior on the part of others. But homosexual marriage is not about tolerating behavior. It goes well beyond live and let live. The same-sex marriage project demands official approval from everyone. And even more than that: participation. Bake my cake — or lose your house.

The Pew Research Center has conducted annual surveys squarely on the question of same-sex marriage. Like the Gallup polls, the Pew surveys showed a significant and steady rise in favorability for homosexual marriage year after year from 2008 to 2015. Surely it would rise again in 2016. And yet, a year after “love won,” gay marriage did not gain a single point, stagnating at a rather tepid 55% approval.

This has to be a disappointment to the gay lobby, and could explain in part why its agitators seem so bent on changing the narrative to bathroom rights for people changing genders.

Where will we be if half of America never comes around to the new court-imposed paradigm? In agreement with most of the world. Only 20 countries worldwide embrace same-sex marriage, out of 220 listed in the CIA World Fact Book. Most of the European Union has kept man-woman marriage.

In fact, Obergefell put the United States in a class almost by itself. Only 2 countries in the world have imposed homosexual marriage on their citizenry by order of a judge: Brazil and the United States.

And now, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled for a second time that there is no right to same-sex marriage under the European Human Rights Convention. Citizens groups like Mum, Dad & Kids hailed the ruling, saying claims that same-sex “marriage” is a human right are “false, without foundation, and contrary to good faith.”

The bathroom imbroglio does not mark the next chapter in America’s national conversation on the social contract. It’s just a commercial break. We are not done with marriage yet.


Cathy Ruse, JD, currently serves as Senior Fellow for Legal Studies at the Family Research Council.

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