Congress plans to make same-sex marriage a federal law – political scientist explains how this issue has become less polarized over time


Whereas public opinion and different state laws on abortion rights are sharply dividing the country, there are growing indications that most people agree on another once controversial topic – the protection of same-sex marriage.

The United States House of Representatives voted on July 19, 2022 to consecrate same-sex marriage signed into law by a bipartisan vote – all 220 Democratic representatives voted in favour, joined by 47 fellow Republicans.

The Respect for Marriage Act, as it is called, would repeal the 1996 Act Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman.

The bill faces a fate uncertain in the narrowly divided Senate – so far, five out of 50 Republicans have said they would vote for it. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will vote on the bill once it has 10 Republican votes.

i am a scholar of political behavior and history in the United States, I think it’s important to understand that the bipartisan support for this bill marks a significant political transformation of same-sex marriage, which has been used as a contentious point separating Democrats and Republicans about 15 to 20 years ago.

But in recent years, same-sex marriage has become less politically divisive and has gained public approval, in part under the leadership of former President Donald Trump’s general. acceptance of the practice. This environment allowed nearly a quarter of Republican House members to vote in political security to protect that right under federal law.

What makes opinions change?

Seventy-one percent of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, according to a Gallup Poll July 2022. In 1996, when Gallup first polled same-sex marriage, 27% supported legalization of same-sex marriage.

This shift in public opinion has occurred despite growing polarization in the United States on gun control, racial justice and climate change.

What becomes, remains, or ceases to be a political issue that divides the United States over time depends on many factors. Changes in laws, shifting cultural norms, and advances in technology can all shape political controversies.

My research, for example, explores how Mormons in Utah Territory – what would later become the State of Utah – were denied statehood by Congress until they renounced their religious belief in polygamy . Polygamy was prohibited by US law, and known polygamists were barred from voting and holding office. In the 1880s, about 20% to 30% Mormons practiced polygamy. Yet political pressure led the president of the Mormon Church in 1890 to announce that polygamy would no longer be sanctioned.

In 2011, 86% of Mormon adults said they consider polygamy morally wrongalmost consistent with general public opinion.

Many political leaders, both left and right, were also broadly hostile to same-sex marriage. until the early 2010s.

A growing controversy

In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that the the state must have a compelling reason to ban same-sex marriage after a gay couple and two lesbian couples filed a complaint that a state ban on same-sex marriage violated their privacy and their rights to equal protection.

The fear among conservatives that this legal reasoning would lead the Supreme Court to recognize a right to same-sex marriage has led to a Republican Senator and Congressman the introduction of the Defense of Marriage Act.

President Bill Clinton signed the bill in 1996 after 342 – or 78% – of deputies and 85 senators voted for it. Polls at the time showed that general population support for same-sex marriage was 27% overall, including only 33% among Democrats.

Seven years later, in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court struck down a state ban on gay marriagee. With a strong national majority of Republicans and Independents opposed to same-sex marriageformer President George W. Bush used conservative reactions to the decision to encourage voter turnout in 2004. Bush campaign spotlighted state amendments to ban same-sex marriageall of which passed easily.

Although voters prioritized other issues in the 2004 elections, opposition to same-sex marriage helped Bush get re-electedwhile Republicans won seats in both the House and the Senate.

A political change

The legal and political landscape of same-sex marriage has become much more liberal in the years following 2004.

In 2008, California state courts and Connecticut hit prohibition of same-sex marriage. Vermont has become the first state in 2009 to pass legislation and legalize same-sex marriage.

A major national shift occurred in 2012 when then-Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama has openly supported same-sex marriage. It was a major change for both men. Biden had voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Obama has publicly supported marriage as being between a man and a woman in his 2004 senatorial campaign.

In 2015, the Supreme Court struck all national and state restrictions on same-sex marriage, making same-sex marriage the law of the land.

The Trump Effect

The lack of attention Trump has given to same-sex marriage is one of the factors that has contributed to it becoming a less controversial issue. While Trump actual record on LBGTQ rights generally aligns with conservative Christian values, Trump said in 2016 that he was “good” with the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Yet despite the legality of same-sex marriage, many conservative states in the Midwest and South deny other legal protections to LGBTQ people. Twenty-nine states still allow licensed professionals to conduct gay conversion therapy for young people, a discredited process to convert LGBTQ people to non-queer.

More than 20 states allow discrimination in both accommodations and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

respect for marriage

Some Republican leaders have got bolder in their opposition to same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Other Republicans have said codifying same-sex marriage into federal law is not necessary because they don’t believe the Supreme Court is likely to strike down federal protections for same-sex marriage.

Democrats first decided to protect same-sex marriage in federal law because Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case that the court should reconsider, “all the substantial precedents of due process of this Court, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell”, the latter being the case which legalized same-sex marriage.

But despite public opinion polls showing most people are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage – including almost half Republicans – the issue could still be a handicap for Republican politicians. They must answer to their core conservative constituents who largely oppose this practice. This coyouI mean that Senate Republicans may have to consider separating from their own base or moving away from moderate voters. .

Tim LindbergAssistant Professor, Political Science, University of Minnesota

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