Young Voters Leading Prop 8’s Decline

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 2, 2008

Proponents of a California ballot initiative that would revoke the rights of gay and lesbian families to marry may have garnered more funds, but according to a new poll voters--especially young voters--are against the proposed measure.

Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that would amend the Calif. constitution and bar gay and lesbian couples from marriage, is strongly promoted by social and religious conservatives, some of whom claim that gay family life lacks a "spiritual" dimension found in heterosexual relationships.

But a Sept. 18 Field Poll indicates that support for the measure continues to fade among voters in the state, especially young voters, according to an Oct. 2 article in the Washington Post.

The article cited Frank Schubert, the campaign manager of Yes on 8, the group seeking to curtail marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, as saying that the anti-marriage equality group has taken in donations worth $18 million, compared to the $14 million that No on 8, the group seeking to defend marriage equality, has raised according to its spokesperson, Geoff Kors.

As reported earlier at EDGE, religious groups around the nation have sent in big donations in an effort to rescind access to marriage by same-sex couples. Most notably, large amounts of money have been flowing toward the anti-marriage equality side from Mormons, who have been instructed by the leadership of their church to support the anti-marriage amendment.

Other religious groups, such as the Roman Catholic lay organization Knights of Columbus, have contributed large sums; the Conn.-based Knights of Columbus has contributed more than a million dollars to the push to outlaw marriage equality in Calif.

The Washington Post article, however, noted that despite the disparity in funds, the effort to preserve marriage equality in Calif. seems to have struck a chord with the majority of voters, especially young voters.

The recent Field Poll indicates that while only 38 percent of voters say they support the measure, 55 percent oppose it. Those numbers represent a shift since last May, when Calif. became the second state in the nation to offer marriage equality; at that time, according to the Washington Post article, the numbers for and against marriage equality were evenly split.

The Post article cited political analysts, who concluded that support for the measure was fading, and who pointed out that, historically, ballot initiatives in Calif. overwhelmingly fail at the box office.

The article quoted Democratic media consultant and strategist Bill Carrick, who said, "The polling we've seen and the demographics certainly seem to show there is an advantage to the 'no' side."

Added Carrick, "And the voters, as is often the case in California, take a look at an initiative and find flaws in it.

"That's why 75 percent of initiatives in the state fail."

However, as media sources elsewhere have pointed out, of the 27 states where constitutional amendments to limit marriage rights have gone before voters, only one state--Arizona--has voted such a measure down. The Ariz. measure failed, it is thought, because the broadly-worded initiative took aim not only at marriage equality, but also at domestic partnership, which benefits heterosexual couples.

A more specific version of the proposed Ariz. amendment targeting only the rights of gay and lesbian families will go before voters in that state this Nov.

Additionally, a gay version of the so-called Bradley effect--when polls indicate popular support that seems to evaporate on election day--seems to come into play with anti-gay-family amendments of this sort. Polls showing that public opposition has outstripped support for amendments aimed at barring marriage equality have failed to predict the eventual outcome, in which such anti-family amendments passed, sometimes by wide margins.

The case in Calif. is unique, however, in that Proposition 8 targets existing rights. As the Post article points out, analysts note that voters in that state have historically been reluctant to approve measures that would change the Calif. constitution, strike down existing laws, or limit individual liberties.

A similar push to put a ballot initiative before voters in Massachusetts, which in 2004 was the first state to make marriage equality legal, was defeated by the state legislature last year.

Those four years of marriage equality in Mass., and the four and a half months that Calif. voters have had to see that marriage equality has not brought civilization crashing down, despite the dire predictions of marriage equality foes, are counted among the factors contributing to the seemingly soft support for the anti-equality measure.

An exchange between Ellen Degeneres and Jay Leno on the Tonight Show also serves to put the big-money push against marriage into a wider context. Said Degeneres of the $18 million that has flowed into the marriage opponents' war chest, "I look at the people who are losing their homes and they're foreclosing--and people in Texas who have lost homes... There are so many people that need money right now--and if you're raising millions of dollars--give it to those people, please because you don't need to promote hate."

Leno agreed with Degeneres that the battle over the individual rights of couples wishing to marry did not warrant such a large-scale battle. The Tonight Show host also noted that four years of marriage equality in Mass. had not brought the sky down.

Those wider political considerations may be part of the reason why younger voters are against the measure; moreover, the Obama candidacy has energized those voters, and promises to bring more of them into the polls on election day than in previous elections, the Post article said, quoting the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California's director, Dan Schnur.

Said Schnur, "It's become clear that younger voters have lined up overwhelmingly against it at this point."

Added Schnur, "Even though Obama himself does not support same-sex marriage, his campaign's voter mobilization efforts could end up playing an important part in the outcome of the initiative."

Schubert, however, suggested that young voters might well turn out to be a force for the amendment rather than against it once they get to the voting booths.

Indeed, as the Post article observed, religious groups have targeted the young faithful as a source of votes in support of the ballot initiative.

The article quoted San Diego pastor Miles McPherson of the Rock Church, who suggested that the media has imparted the idea of gay and lesbian equality to younger people.

Said McPherson, "That's all they know. They see it on TV. They see in the movies. Teenagers today, they see nothing wrong with it."

McPherson characterized young voters as "hav[ing] been trained since they were small, in the school system and culture, to live in a world of tolerance and under a banner of tolerance.

"They have been trained not to speak against anyone's lifestyle."

But even though young people may have grown up in a culture where gays and lesbians are increasingly visible at all levels of society, according to Yes on 8's Schubert, marriage equality opponents have not been disheartened by the new poll numbers.

Rather, Schubert suggested that the poll's results are due to defenders of marriage rights trying to sway voters with language that highlights the discriminatory nature of the measure, such as the anti-Proposition 8 ballot summary that was contested this summer by marriage equality foes.

The summary, which was written by Calif. Attorney General Jerry Brown, says that a successful Proposition 8 "eliminates the rights of same-sex couples to marry."

For the anti-marriage equality side of the debate, which says that the state's domestic partnership provisions are good enough for gay and lesbian families, the issue is not one of discrimination, but rather of protecting the sanctity of marriage by defining it as a special rights for heterosexuals only, and refusing to allow gays and lesbians to participate.

Said Rock Church pastor McPherson of the young voters that religious conservatives hope to convince with youth rallies, "They have to understand that heterosexual marriage and gay marriage, especially from a biblical perspective, are not the same thing."

The pastor added, "There's a spiritual component to marriage that the secular world doesn't understand, and it's the church's job to protect it."

Both sides believe that television commercials are key to reaching undecided voters, and both sides have commercials on the air, including on ad that No on 8 did not produce, but which underscores the point defenders of marriage equality are trying to make.

In the ad, a bride's progress up the aisle is blocked by a series of deterrents in an image meant to illustrate for heterosexual voters the frustration that gay and lesbian families feel at having their right to marry challenged.

No on 8 currently airs a new commercial showcasing a married couple with a lesbian daughter; Yes on 8 has an ad showing San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome, who is heterosexual, saying that "This door is wide open now," referring to access to marriage for gay and lesbian families.

Said Schubert,"We feel it's been a one-sided conversation with voters, but that's about to change."

The Post also cited Schubert as noting that black and Latino voters have polled as supporting the anti-marriage equality amendment, and referencing the sense that social conservatives have that Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has brought a fresh energy to Republican presidential nominee John McCain's campaign.

But the Post also noted that Steve Smith, campaign manager for No on 8, said that demographic generalizations are not necessarily predictive in this case.

Said Smith, "It is psychographic more than demographic."

The article cited Smith as observing that voters with gay friends, family, and colleagues tend to oppose the proposed amendment, since it would have an impact on their rights as individuals.

That sense of opposition to a measure that would restrict the liberties of people voters actually know cuts across racial demographics, as well as age and gender, Smith said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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