- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2015

The headlines of most opinion polls and news stories say the same thing: Gay marriage is inevitable, by the people’s choice.

But at least one friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court argues that the jury is still out — not only have voters overwhelmingly upheld state laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but also some polls can’t be trusted because of factors such as bias in a question’s wording.

A lopsided battle of the public opinion polls is likely to continue until the Supreme Court — which hears arguments Tuesday in the landmark same-sex marriage cases — releases its ruling in June.

In February, a CNN/ORC survey of more than 1,000 people found 63 percent support for same-sex marriage.

This “supermajority of Americans” reflects the constant growing and widening support for the nuptials, said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry.

In recent days, USA Today, The Washington Post and ABC News also have declared an end to the national battle on marriage.

“There’s no turning back,” said an April 19 article in USA Today, citing its poll of 1,000 adults taken with Suffolk University. Some 51 percent of those adults said they favored allowing gay couples to marry, with 35 percent opposed and 14 percent undecided.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Thursday found 61 percent support for same-sex marriage — with 78 percent support in the under-30 age group.

A Public Religion Research Institute survey of 40,000 Americans — which also found majority support for same-sex marriage — revealed that most Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Orthodox Christians side with same-sex marriage, while evangelicals, black Protestants, Hispanic Protestants, Mormons and Muslims do not.

Even the conservative American Enterprise Institute confirmed that since 1988, public opinion has shifted steadily in favor of same-sex marriage rights. Taken together, these reports plus polls by Gallup, the Pew Research Center, NBC and The New York Times, show “the unprecedented traction” gay marriage has had in America, the Human Rights Campaign said.

In contrast, an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court says it is “simply not true” that large majorities of Americans support a redefinition of marriage.

Real opinions are made at voting booths, and in 39 elections, in which nearly 85 million votes were cast in 35 states, more than 51 million people voted to keep marriage as a man-woman union, campaign and polling analyst Frank Schubert and the National Organization for Marriage said in their brief in Obergefell v. Hodges.

With a margin of 60.9 percent to 39.1 percent for traditional marriage, that is “an overwhelming landslide in American politics,” they wrote.

Although some polls indicate wide support for same-sex marriage, others show majority opposition to it or public support starting to drop, the brief said.

Polls by WPA Opinion Research, The Polling Co. and Public Opinion Strategies found majority support for man-woman marriage. Moreover, a Pew Research Center poll in September and Rasmussen Reports poll in February found declining support for same-sex marriage, while a 2013 Rice University study found that more people changed their minds between 2006 and 2012 to reject same-sex marriage than to agree with it.

Also, many polls showing support for same-sex marriage may be worded to catch a “yes.”

“People generally want to be ‘for’ something, rather than ‘against’ something,” the National Organization for Marriage brief said.

Another factor, intended or not, is the “priming” of people with questions about legal rights before asking them about the right to marry. Without such priming, the Gallup Poll’s support for same-sex marriage dipped by an average of 6 to 7 points, the brief said.

When these elements are taken together — plus the many polls that show a plurality for one side or the other, but no majority — it is clear that Americans are still divided on same-sex marriage and that support may be eroding, said the National Organization for Marriage brief, which urged the Supreme Court to defer the issue and let the people and the democratic process resolve it.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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