- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Maine voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether they will allow gay couples to marry. Gay marriage was enacted in May by a Democrat-led Senate and House and Maine Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat.

But before the ink was dry, Maine citizens gathered 100,000 signatures - almost twice the number needed - to put the new law to a vote. We’ll know the outcome soon.

The big picture on gay marriage is that the American people have steadfastly rejected it for two decades. What is less known is that most Americans have updated their views on civil unions, and now support that legal option for gay couples.

This is not insignificant. As recently as 2003, the Pew Research Center found that more people opposed civil unions than supported them.

But support for civil unions slowly inched up into the 50 percent zone, and a Pew survey of more than 4,000 people released Oct. 9 showed that an unprecedented 57 percent of Americans now favor allowing “gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples,” i.e., civil unions.

This represents an enormous olive branch on the part of Americans, who in previous years favored zip, zero and nada when it came to legal recognition for gay couples.

I am sure some readers will instantly think, “Thanks for nothing, America.” Gay rights supporters who think they are entitled to marriage will feel especially aggrieved.

Conversely, those Americans who think homosexuality is immoral - as 49 percent said to Pew in August - will no doubt feel irked by the growing groundswell of support for civil unions.

My observation is that (a) the new support for civil unions confirms a public coalescence around this legal option, and (b) until journalists snap out of their simplistic thinking about gay rights, the public will be ill-served on this issue.

At the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), senior fellow Karlyn Bowman has long compiled an excellent summary of public opinion surveys about homosexuality.

According to the AEI summary, the first national poll on gay marriage was taken in 1988 by the National Opinion Research Center; back then, 73 percent of Americans said homosexual couples do not have the right to marry each other.

In dozens of subsequent polls, regardless of who asked the question or how it was worded, the general public has rejected gay marriage. The only exceptions are college students or other youth groups; they support gay marriage.

The Oct. 9 poll by Pew reconfirmed the general rejection of gay marriage (53 percent oppose vs. 39 percent support). But Pew’s finding that 57 percent Americans support civil unions is the largest yet, according to the latest AEI summary.

This new receptivity to civil unions has been underplayed in the media. Perhaps because most journalists support gay rights (according to comments and polls cited by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting and the Media Research Center), they can’t fathom the nation’s resistance to gay marriage or see why more in-depth, unbiased reporting is needed.

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