Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Where do attitudes stand on same-sex marriage in Georgia after the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling on a California case, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month? Two number crunchers offer different views of when gay and lesbian unions will be accepted here. Of course, other national cases in the future may ultimately determine what happens with Georgia’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Commenting is open below.
By Gregory B. Lewis
Isn’t it time for Georgia’s Democratic, business and higher education leaders to publicly support gay marriage?
The Supreme Court has ruled that parts of the Defense of Marriage Act are unconstitutional, and the federal government has begun recognizing same-sex marriages from the 13 states that perform them.
Every major polling firm finds a majority of Americans favor allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry. The Pew Research Center finds 20 percent higher support today than just nine years ago. The pace of change is not only rapid, but widespread. My research shows acceptance of marriage equality has risen at least 10 percentage points among every race, religion, region and political persuasion since 2004, with more signs the pace is quickening than slowing.
Attitudes are changing rapidly even in Georgia. In 2004, 76 percent of us voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but my research indicates support for the practice is rising nearly 2 percentage points a year. Slightly more than 40 percent of Georgians currently favor same-sex marriage, with greater support among blacks and Latinos than whites. The state is now where the country was in 2004; if present trends continue, a majority of Georgians will favor same-sex marriage before 2020.
The speed of this trajectory has made it possible for President Barack Obama, 54 U.S. Senators (including two Republicans) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to reveal their support for allowing same-sex couples to marry, knowing that if a majority of their constituents do not currently support marriage equality, they soon will. Republicans are making a lackluster attempt to pass a constitutional amendment, but only two Georgia congressmen are co-sponsoring it; perhaps even Georgia Republicans recognize this is a battle they have lost.
With the national trajectory clear, what do Georgia’s Democratic, business and higher education leaders gain by staying silent? My research indicates most Georgia Democrats now favor same-sex marriage, and independents are almost evenly split on the issue. By 2020, strong majorities of both Democrats and independents are likely to favor it. Democrats in statewide runs in 2014 take a risk by endorsing marriage equality, but those considering 2020 races would be fools to oppose it now.
Atlanta business and education leaders also need to start moving Georgia into the 21st century on this issue. The creative class is one of the engines of the U.S. economy, and knowledge workers want to live in tolerant environments. Can Atlanta, the capital of the New South, attract high-tech industries if Georgia refuses to acknowledge the change going on throughout the economy?
My partner and I were reluctant to leave the social openness of Washington, D.C., to accept university jobs in the Deep South 14 years ago, but we gave up little in terms of legal rights. With full marriage equality available in so many states, moving here now would mean transforming ourselves from spouses into legal strangers. We would not make that sacrifice, and neither will many other gay and lesbian couples Georgia universities and firms want to recruit.
Gregory B. Lewis is professor and chairman of the Department of Public Management and Policy at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
By Fredrick Hicks and Omar Nagi
Just nine years ago, Georgia added a ban on gay marriage to its constitution. The Voting Rights Act was a way of political life. And women had access to a number of abortion-related options. Today, the ban on gay marriage remains, a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is no longer in place, and there is a push to criminalize abortion in many cases.
While the country becomes more liberal, we found Georgia remaining a bastion of conservative ideals. The questions are why, and will it change?
We recently conducted a Social Values Survey among likely voters throughout Georgia. We found that, by a small majority of 51 to 49 percent, voters do not believe the VRA is still necessary; 60 percent of Georgians oppose legalizing gay/same sex marriage, and 53 percent of voters are pro-life by one definition or another.
Consider the following: According to statistics offered by the Georgia Secretary of State, nearly 90 percent of all active voters are either black or white; and nearly 64 percent are 40 and over, with approximately 25 percent over age 60.
Think about that. While there is much discussion about how demographics will change Georgia politically, the demographic realities of the state indicate change will take 20 or more years, not 5 to 10 years.
Although the mathematics of demography seems certain, we see two ways to change this long-term projection. The first possibility is an influx of over 1 million young (under 40) new active voters. Option 2 is the occurrence of a significant social event that captures the attention of voters, something akin to Bull Connor hosing down and sending attack dogs after peaceful black protesters while the country is watching; or a dramatic social media-driven movement.
Without one or both of these system shocks, change will be slow.
The socially liberal young voters, ages 17 to 25, are the smallest proportion of registered voters. It will take 15 to 23 years for this group to become part of the majority.
Based on our research, it is not safe to assume that more racial diversity will move the meter on gay marriage, as a majority of African-Americans do not support it. It could move the meter on issues like abortion — over 60 percent of African-Americans support legalized abortion — but emerging Hispanic and Asian populations will also have a voice on these issues.
Ironically, as support for issues like gay marriage grows, it diminishes for issues like the Voting Rights Act. Just as conservative blacks and whites create a bloc that, in effect, blocks gay marriage, whites opposed to and in support of gay marriage create a bloc that, in effect, blocks public support for the Voting Rights Act. Each group suppresses support for the other.
Georgia is trending towards being more socially liberal by today’s standards. To us, the question is not if, but when. Even Georgia cannot withstand Father Time.
Fredrick Hicks is the president of the Hicks Evaluation Group, a non-partisan consulting firm. He is also the lead pollster on the Social Values Survey. Dr. Omar Nagi, director of undergraduate studies at the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York, is the survey’s methodologist.