Bizarre polling results are nothing new - just ask the Kerry pollster that thought he won Arkansas in 2004. Usually there are easy explanations, like a screwed-up sample, poor weighting, bad questioning, etc. That said, I have no idea what to make of this poll. A few notes:
- Only 40% of Americans think gay people should be allowed to marry. 59% of 18-29s do, however.
- 73% of people think gay couples should have inheritance rights. 67% of people think gay couples should have health insurance and employee benefits. 54% of people think gay people should be allowed to adopt (a majority, but still a shockingly low number).
- 40% of people still think gay sex should be illegal. (And what's up with that graph? Did America take a collective stupid pill in the late-'80s?)
- 69% of people think gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. The same percentage thinks they should be allowed to teach children. (I would be shocked by that last number, except that I just saw Milk the other night and I realize that only 30 years ago it took damn near a miracle to convince Californians to prevent an anti-gay witch hunt in the schools. So quite the improvement, there.)
These numbers are all fun to quote by themselves, but put together, they make absolutely no sense. A majority of Americans support the constituent parts of gay marriage, but only 40% support gay marriage? Huh? Does that mean that at least 14% of Americans support gay marriage and just don't know it yet?
I think it's more likely that Americans don't know what gay marriage is. I have a feeling that most Americans still think of civil marriage as more than just a legal agreement between consenting adults. As such, we still are unable to have an honest debate on this issue, since because of this failure to understand the limitations of civil marriage, religious babble gets drawn into an argument where is has no place.
What's even more confusing is the idea that support for gay civil rights appears to be hanging around in the high 60s, but support for gay people being allowed to do the thing that makes them gay is in the high 50s. Shouldn't support for the freedom of gay people to do whatever they want behind closed doors be higher than support for gay civil rights? I really don't understand how this works. My suspicion is that something about the question is loaded or unclear. If not, though, my fear is that people support civil rights in the abstract, but their support wanes when confronted with the fact that full civil rights means that activities they personally find icky would have to be legal.
In fact, is there really anything else beyond the "icky" factor driving this debate? I have yet to see an argument opposing gay rights that doesn't boil down to "ewww, that's icky." And far too many people think that ickiness ought to be a factor in our legislative process. (See: smoking bans, trans-fat bans, prohibition laws, yadda yadda yadda.)