Morality, Equality, or Locality: Analyzing the Determinants of Support for Same-Sex Marriage

By Gaines, N. Susan; Garand, James C. | Political Research Quarterly, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Morality, Equality, or Locality: Analyzing the Determinants of Support for Same-Sex Marriage


Gaines, N. Susan, Garand, James C., Political Research Quarterly


Abstract

In this article, the authors develop a model in which they depict individuals' support for same-sex marriage as a function of several clusters of independent variables, including symbolic politics, moral and religious attitudes and attachments, feelings toward gays and lesbians, women's rights and gender roles, concern for minority and civil rights, demographic attributes, and the local context. Using data from the 2004 American National Election Studies survey and the U.S. Census, the authors find that attitudes toward same-sex marriage are a function of moral and religious considerations, attitudes toward gays and lesbians, and gender roles. They find little evidence that attitudes toward women's rights and civil rights for African Americans affect attitudes toward same-sex marriage. Finally, they find that contextual effects are limited only to those respondents who reside in counties with a very high percentage of same-sex partnered couples.

Keywords

American politics, public opinion, political participation

The development of significant moral and cultural cleavages in the United States has drawn the rapt attention of political observers in recent decades. One cultural issue- the legal status of same-sex relationships, including samesex marriage-has taken center stage in the American culture wars in the past dozen years, starting in particular with debates about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress and signed by Presidential Clinton in 1996. In the years following passage of DOMA, the issue of same-sex marriage moved a bit toward the periphery of the policy agenda in the minds of the American public until May 2004, when a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in that state. What had been a rather localized judicial decision in Massachusetts generated considerable debate throughout the United States, and the issue became nationalized over the question of whether the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution would require other states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts or in other states that might adopt a change in their marriage laws in the future. The decisions by the California and Connecticut supreme courts in 2008 to legalize same-sex marriage, along with the November 2008 ballot initiative on same-sex marriage in California, promise to keep the issue of same-sex marriage on the public agenda for the foreseeable future.

During the 2004 presidential election, the issue of same-sex marriage took on considerable importance, particularly when Missouri and Louisiana voters approved bans on same-sex marriage in their primary elections and eleven other states placed amendments on the ballot for the general election that year. Scholars have debated the political implications of the same-sex marriage issue during the 2004 presidential election, particularly the question of whether President George W. Bush and other Republican candidates benefited from an upsurge of voters motivated to preserve "traditional family values" by supporting conservative candidates (Brewer 2005; Campbell and Monson 2005; Hillygus and Shields 2005; Lewis 2005; Tolbert, Donovan, and Smith 2005).

While the movement for same-sex marriage began sporadically in the 1970s, it was only in the 1990s that the wider gay community began the push for recognition of same-sex marriages (Eskridge 2002). Josephson (2005) identifies a set of 1989 essays by Paula Ettelbrick (1997) and Tom Stoddard (1997) as the catalysts that initially sparked enthusiasm for securing marriage rights for same-sex couples. Other researchers have directed their studies to the development of gay and lesbian rights and political power more generally (Egan and Sherrill 2005; Eskridge 2002; Gerstmann 1999, 2004; Haider-Markel and Meier 1996; Kaplan 1997; Sherrill 1996). Additionally, the body of literature regarding the issue of samesex marriage has examined its legal underpinnings and the proposed amendments banning it (Gerstmann 2005; Kersch 1997; Liu and Macedo 2005). …

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