GRATEFUL NATION Gay-marriage supporters sign a thank-you card for President Barack Obama in
San Francisco on May 9, 2012. Some say his announcement in favor of equal marriage will help
others take the same step.
THE IMPORTANCE OF JUST BEING DECENT
Obama's media-dominating change of heart might be just what's needed to help large numbers of ordinary people take their own final step to admitting that they have been wrong on the issue.
To be sure, there has been good news. A slight majority of Americans now says that same-sex marriages should be legal, rather than illegal — a gain of 10 points since 2002, according to Gallup polling.
But when given a third option of civil unions, approval for full marriage drops below 40 percent — hardly a resounding call for full equality.
And basic prejudices remain. Just more than 40 percent view homosexual relations as morally wrong. About as many still believe homosexuality is caused by one's upbringing.
All of these numbers are moving, slowly, toward acceptance. Much of that is due to the death of older, more prejudiced Americans, who are being replaced in polls by a younger, more accepting generation.
That might mean victory for marriage equality in the very long term. But it suggests that eight years of very public debate, in nearly every state, has done little to change minds.
Nor has it changed votes. Yet again, just a day before Obama's announcement, another state approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages — this time in North Carolina, with particularly harsh language that forbids civil unions as well.
Something does seem to have changed, though: the intensity of opposition.
Although difficult to quantify, it does seem that more and more of those still opposing same-sex marriages do so half-heartedly.
Fewer than one in four independent voters say that Obama's approval of marriage equality makes them less likely to vote for him, according to Gallup — and the real number may be much smaller, judging by the lack of any change in presidential poll results in the past week.
Yet there remains that seemingly unbroachable barrier to full approval. If America is going to come around to same-sex marriage by a change of heart, rather than slow, generational demographic attrition, people may need to be led across that final threshold — and Obama may have started that process last week.