Monday, October 25, 2010

By the numbers: same sex marriage vs. inter-racial marriage

"Activist judges do not have the right to redefine marriage if the majority of voters disagree." That's what the marriage equality opponents tell us all the time, to justify the "right of the people" to let their opinion determine the rights of a minority group.

So let's consider what the People thought in 1968. In that year, Americans told Gallup that they disapproved of inter-racial marriage by a margin of 73%-20%. Overwhelmingly, Americans did not think people should marry across racial lines.
That's a year after the Supreme Court, in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia, legalized inter-racial marriage. Despite the fact that nearly 3/4 of Americans disapproved. How dare they! Over the voices of the mob majority, how dare they?

It wasn't until 1991, twenty three years after the decision, that a plurality of Americans approved of racially mixed marriages. The number approving has flattened out in recent polls at around 75% now. I suspect it will stay there for some time, until a particular generation dies out.

Now, let's think about marriage equality for GLBT people. When the question was asked in 1996, it was 65% opposed, 27% in favor. Pretty close to where we started with inter-racial marriage, back in the 1960s. So, I wondered: how does the trend compare? The answer is, remarkably well.

These graphs look almost perfectly superimposed. By this prediction, marriage equality will have a plurality of support by about 2019, and an overwhelming majority by 2028. Good news for our kids, eh?

But here's the thing. All these data points for inter-racial marriage come from a time when inter-racial marriage was already legal in all 50 states . We didn't wait for majority approval to remedy the injustice. In contrast, I'm sure I needn't remind you that same sex marriage is not legal yet, except in a few pockets in the country.

Further, by the time public opinion was at the point regarding inter-racial marriage as it is now for same sex marriage, inter-racial marriage had been legal for 14 years.

So please, just what in hell are we waiting for?

And next time you have to deal with the "activist judges" line, remember these data.

Method I took the data from the Gallup polls on inter-racial marriage, and the Pew polls on same-sex marriage. For this analysis, I assigned the starting year to the absolute value "0" (1968 for inter-racial data, 1996 for same-sex marriage data). Each data point was then plotted based on how many years had elapsed since year "0". The density of points for same sex marriage relative to the inter-racial marriage reflects the difference in frequency of polling the questions.


James said...

Yes, eventually the turtle will win the race, but in the mean time the suffering and injustice continue.

It's interesting that judges are only "activist" when they move against the right wing and in the direction of civil rights.

IT said...

James! i think you've got it! ;-)