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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Conservatives Losing On Gay Rights

Steve Chapman at Real Clear Politics.

The state-level successes on gay marriage are about the only ones his side can boast. On other fronts, the portents are anything but auspicious.

Start with public attitudes, which are growing more and more favorable to gays and gay rights. The hard Right thinks the citizenry absolutely detests "activist judges," but when the Supreme Court issued a stunning decision overturning state laws against sodomy in 2003, the public barely blinked.

In fact, 74 percent said they favored striking down such statutes. If Brownback and his allies think the public is with them on gay issues, where is the federal anti-sodomy amendment?

That's what I've always wondered. The anti-gay activists changed the subject from sodomy laws to gay marriage, because they knew they'd be pilloried on talk radio if they proposed a Federal No-Sodomy Amendment (FNA).

The greatest consolation for them is that same-sex marriage is still unpopular. But more than half of Americans endorse either gay marriage or civil unions, which are marriages in all but name. Two states (Vermont and Connecticut) have legalized civil unions, without attracting 1 percent of the attention that has gone to Massachusetts. Once considered a radical step, this has taken on the look of a soothing, sensible compromise.

A more telling sign is the huge shift in opinion on discrimination. In 1977, when Gallup asked if homosexuals should have "equal rights in terms of job opportunities," 56 percent said yes and 33 percent no. Nowadays, opposition to this form of gay rights has only slightly broader appeal than the Socialist Workers Party. This year, 89 percent of Americans favored equal employment rights, with only 9 percent disagreeing.

That evolution suggests attitudes on gay marriage are likely to grow more positive, not less. The battle for tolerance has largely been won among young people, who will be guiding policy in the not-too-distant future. "They're much, much, much more accepting" of gay rights than their elders, says American Enterprise Institute polling expert Karlyn Bowman.

Growing tolerance presents a huge obstacle to another cause of social conservatives. Earlier this year, they were trumpeting a multi-state push to ban adoption by same-sex couples -- to prevent homosexuals from "experimenting on children through gay adoption," in the words of Russell Johnson, head of the Ohio Restoration Project.

It seemed a shrewd and logical follow-up to the state-by-state offensive against gay marriage. Since Florida was alone in explicitly outlawing adoptions by same-sex couples, the opponents of gay adoption thought they had a target-rich environment -- not to mention a winning issue with voters.

But they had a little problem launching the campaign. Kent Markus, director of the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy at Capital University Law School in Ohio, says that in state after state, "it peeked above the surface and got knocked right back down. Nothing has gained any momentum anywhere in the United States."

Right now, the defeat of the marriage amendment is a disappointment to opponents of gay rights. But someday, it will look like the good old days.

It will be interesting to see if any of the state amendments can be defeated. I think Wisconsin is the most likely state to defeat their amendment - and I hope that folks in Minnesota drive over the boarder to help folks in the Badger State defeat this nonsense. If the amendment gets voted down in Wisconsin, the push for the amendment in Minnesota will suddenly get dropped by Republicans.

A successful campaign against the amendment requires direct arguments about why the amendment is a bad idea, not the argument that the amendment is divisive, which doesn't successful make the case for a no vote.