Support for same-sex marriage reaches a 'tipping point' (+video)

Polls now show unwavering majority support for same-sex marriage in the United States as federal judges rule against state bans on such unions, a trend particularly popular among younger Americans.

By , Staff writer

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    Days after the legalization of gay marriage in Pennsylvania, LaQuana Myrick and Stephanie Stewart of Harrisburg got married at Fort Hunter Park Mansion in Harrisburg, Pa., on Saturday,
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Support for same-sex marriage in the United States has reached a “tipping point,” according to the Gallup polling organization, a significant if not surprising development in a relatively recent social phenomenon that remains jarring to some older Americans but no big deal to younger people.

“For proponents of marriage equality, years of playing offense have finally paid off as this movement has reached a tipping point in recent years – both legally and in the court of public opinion,” Gallup notes in reporting that such support has “solidified above the majority level.”

Substantively as well as symbolically, American society has been moving in this direction for several years.

Recommended: How much do you know about gay rights in America? Take the quiz!

In the US military, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly-gay service members has been replaced with full acceptance: same-sex partners are eligible for service benefits, and same-sex weddings are being performed in military chapels.

Former Defense Secretary and Eagle Scout Robert Gates, who took over as president of the Boy Scouts of America Saturday, says “it’s time for a blunt talk” about  the organization’s ban on gay adult leaders.

Homophobia remains a problem in professional sports, as it does in other institutions. But Michael Sam recently became the first openly gay player to be drafted by a National Football League team (the St. Louis Rams).

Meanwhile, within the past six months, eight federal judges have struck down as unconstitutional state laws and state constitutional amendments restricting marriage to heterosexual unions. Most recently, that was in Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Collectively, these judges are diverse – white and black, male and female, gay and straight, some appointed by Democratic presidents and some by Republicans. However, they seemed to draw common inspiration from a US Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 that ordered the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.

In most of the cases, the rulings have been stayed pending appeals, and a final nationwide verdict on same-sex marriage will likely come from the Supreme Court as some of the cases head there. But the judges' opinions – often embellished by soaring language – reflected a yearning to be on what they had come to see as the right side of history.

"Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered," wrote Arenda L. Wright Allen, appointed by President Obama as the first black woman to serve on the federal bench in Virginia. "We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect."

"Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so," District Judge Wright Allen wrote. "However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage."

"State defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people," wrote District Judge Bernard Friedman in Michigan, a Republican appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan. "No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples."

Similarly, a string of state attorneys general have refused to defend such laws and amendments, declaring them to be unconstitutional.

Among the 33 states with some sort of gay marriage ban, only North Dakota’s remains to be legally challenged – but likely not for long.

Long an effective issue for conservative Republicans, same-sex marriage is turning into a wedge issue for Democrats. So far, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

Nevada Republicans dropped their opposition to gay marriage last month from the state party's platform, and a national campaign is underway to remove such language from the national party platform in 2016. Major Republican donors have formed a coalition to push the party to become more gay-friendly.

Demography is driving the trend in public attitudes here.

“Among the most dramatic divisions in opinion on the issue are between age groups,” Gallup reported last week. “Currently, adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are nearly twice as likely to support marriage equality as adults aged of 65 and older.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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