Inevitable gay marriage?

The latest gay marriage public opinion survey confirms earlier research that this issue is now on a near-inevitable path. There are large majorities of younger voters in favour: 74% of 16-24 year olds, 71% of 25-34 year olds, and 68% of 35-49 year olds. Only the 50+ age group are opposed, by a small plurality: 49% against to 45% in favour.

This opinon has arisen with surprisingly little debate compared to other countries, suggesting that is evolving out of general changed views on homosexuality rather than issue-specific campaigning. The downside of this is that there isn’t much pressure on the government to actually alter the law. Rudd’s personal conservatism is probably an obstacle to the law changing, and so it is not likely to occur without significant pressure.

25 thoughts on “Inevitable gay marriage?

  1. “…suggesting that is evolving out of general changed views on homosexuality rather than issue-specific campaigning”.

    Or, of course, real voters don’t think “gay marriage” is worthwhile, and both of the activist-commissioned Galaxy polls (the only major polls to show majority support for “gay marriage”) were flawed. Even Crikey doubts the majority support figures:

    In this latest poll, indeed, the lead question about foreign unions misstated the legal arrangements for marriage in the United States. Only six US states allow marriage, while 44 do not (29 of these have DOMAs and the rest have legislated to clarify the legal definition of marriage). Curiously, the poll also showed less support for recognizing foreign “gay marriages”

    Despite the hyperbole of advocates (and Andrew, you are not immune – I was hoping you would actually parse these latest figures, and critique the method), most people think support for “gay marriage” hovers closer to the 38% found by Newspoll in 2004. Indeed, that might have been the high point. There has been no evidence since, no voter backlash, no mass protest movement, nothing that indicates any serious change.

    “Rudd’s personal conservatism is probably an obstacle to the law changing”

    That, and the fact that marriage has broad, deep, and remarkably consistent bipartisan support in Australia – mirroring the broad, deep, and remarkably consistent support for marriage in the wider community. There is a reason why the activists commission such polls. They know they have lost the argument from popularity (and democratic principle).

    – JH


  2. John – I was myself sceptical at the time of the 2007 Galaxy result. However the 2007 Australian Election Survey result which I reported on last year confirmed two things in my mind: the first is that where a ‘don’t know’ option is expressly offered it gets a fairly high response – 13% in the AES. It’s only 4% in the Galaxy, a phone poll in which the question does not expressly offer this option but will be recorded if offered (the AES is a mail out survey, so respondents can read all options). It looks like ‘don’t know’ respondents are more likely to agree if pressed.

    The second thing about the AES – not done by Galaxy, not organised by ‘homoactivists’ – is that it shows the same age pattern, with majorities of those born in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s favouring same sex marriage.

    In the 2007 Galaxy poll, there were softer prior questions about gay rights that might have influenced the result. In this poll, the prior question was about the recognition of overseas gay marriages. As it had a slightly lower support rate (58% compared to 60%) than the domestic question it does not look like a question that primed for a positive response – possibly a small number of voters believe that this issue should be resolved here before we recognise overseas gay marriages. In the AES, the marriage question was the only one on same-sex issues in 28 pages of qustions on a wide variety of issues.

    We can argue about the substantive issues (as we have!) but the clear age cohort effects make it clear where this is heading.


  3. Andrew – even the AES polling found that, as you stated, “the public is now evenly divided, with 43.6% in favour and 43.2% against”. With the margin for error, control for other variables, etc. that is much closer to 38%. Hardly the overwhelming majorities we are seeing in the Galaxy results.
    Leading a question on attitudes to “gay marriage” with a statement (an incorrect statement, in fact) about “gay marriages” in other countries ties in with activist claims that this is a civil rights movement, as inevitable as desegregation, and the fall of apartheid. The rhetoric is familiar to marriage supporters, and it contributes to framing bias in this latest Galaxy poll.

    – JH


  4. John – I did not reweight the AES data to deal with the over-representation of middle-aged people in their sample (a problem with mail-out surveys: you can’t ask first if the household has the characteristics you need). The error is more likely to be in under-stating the results because of this issue.

    It’s the pattern of strong majorities for same-sex marriage in the younger age groups that makes me think I know where this issue is headed more than the aggregate results in any given poll.

    Even that 2004 Newspoll – your favourite – had the 18-34 year olds 55% to 29% in favour of same-sex marriage, and the 35-49 year olds had a plurality in favour, 43% to 40%.

    The main difference between the Galaxy polls and the others is the Galaxy has low don’t knows. For the reasons stated above, I don’t think the previous questions are significant – and even if there was a question effect, if opposition to gay marriage is so unstable that it can be thrown by raising another gay issue its prospects are not good.


  5. Andrew – Thank you for the clarification. Still, the poll purports to measure attitudes, not on-the-ground opposition to gay marriage. In that case, it is probable (if not likely) that a clear misstatement of fact would influence the outcome.

    I am not so sure that the liberal bias younger voters express when asked for their attitudes on social issues necessarily lines up with voter intention, party preference, cohort dynamics, etc. Is there any evidence that is remains stable over time?

    This sort of attitudinal polling might be ill-suited to the task at hand. Perhaps it asks the wrong question, or the wrong sort of question. What we want to know is what level of political support there is for “gay marriage”. As with polls that purport to show support for “gay marriage” among same sex attracted men, asking someone if they think someone else (and I cannot imagine the majority of Galaxy respondents would have been same sex attracted) should be allowed to do X will return some measure of the attitudes of the sample, but it will tell you more about their libertarianism, or some other phenomena, than their support for a particular political agenda. The trouble is, advocates on both sides of the issue mistake attitudes for intentions and – not infrequently – intentions for facts.

    – JH


  6. John – I think the over-simplification of US law is not relevant to the issue. The question is simply given that gay marriage is legal in other jurisdictions, what should we do with people who have married in those jurisdictions – recognise their marriages or not? If they said ‘some states of the US’ it would not have altered the substantive question being asked.

    In the US polling literature, there are clear generational or age cohort effects. These are not as well researched in Australia, except for party preference where they do exist. I’ll see if I can construct one for gay issues over the weekend – there were a a reasonable number of questions on decriminalising gay sex from the 1970s onwards to when the issue died in the 1990s. But my intuition is that given that younger generations do not support other types of discrimination against gay people they are unlikely to support the continuation of current marriage laws.

    As I have said, this does not mean that this is a top of mind or high priority issue. Clearly it isn’t. But when some momentum builds for change, it won’t be very politically damaging to whichever government pursues change.


  7. As the author of the 2007 Crikey piece that Dreadnought is quoting, allow me to weigh in on this. He neglects to quote the preceding sentence, which was “?I don’t doubt that society is moving towards acceptance of gay marriage, and that attitudes are much more tolerant than our political leaders would have us believe.” That’s still my view. I certainly see no evidence at all for the idea that the 2004 Newspoll “might have been the high point” of support for the issue.

    Regardless of the precise level of support for gay marriage, the trend is clear from the demographic breakdowns that Andrew gives – which echo similar results from the US, where recent movement has been very rapid. That doesn’t mean it’s unstoppable, but it’s pretty clear which side you’d bet on.

    And as an aside, can I suggest Dreadnought read Fowler on the preference for “first” over “firstly”?


  8. Andrew – Thank you, but again, you elide the point. The question is not “simply given that gay marriage is legal in other jurisdictions”. The question actually lists the places, and then wrongly includes the US. Why?
    You say it would be okay if “[i]f they said some states of the US”. I must disagree. The question would have to be scripted accurately, to approach neutrality. Even something like “a culturally significant minority, mainly in historically socially liberal New England, in the US”, would come closer to the truth. Or perhaps, if they had to include the US experience, “6 states out of 50 states in the US” (remember that the 44 are not neutral, or virgin, they have actively moved away from “gay marriage”). Of course, these are all politically awkward (but true, certainly more accurate than the statement that was read over the phone), and would not have pleased who paid for the Galaxy polls.

    Charles – To be honest, I didn’t think your preceding sentence was relevant. Given that I was interested in your direct comment on the methodology and / or credibility of the 2007 poll, and not your statements of opinion, I have not been neglectful. Certainly, my leading statement – “From Charles Richardson at Crikey (hardly a conservative organ)” – is a poor candidate for your indignation. I got your name right, and the name (and broad nature) of the website right. I made no other representations.

    I have Fowler (1937) beside me. He is a constant friend and a persuasive critic. However, as I “like oddities because they are odd”, I am “free to indulge” in “harmless pedantries”. You might want to check Fowler’s take on (sic), and please understand that I was not using the marker as a “sneer”.

    – JH


  9. I look forward to the day I can legally wed and receive equal legal entitlements, yet I can’t help but be slightly disappointed that gay marriage is the solution rather than the abolition of government registered heterosexual “marriage”. Abolition of government marriage would be such a simpler solution.

    In about 12 days I’ll have my de facto relationship recognised by Centrelink, the ATO and other government agencies. I wonder how long it’ll be until the M word is extended my way…

    I think Andrew’s conclusions about the inevitability of gay marriage are correct. Even if it doesn’t have majority support I think the activists in favour out number the activists against and there’s a large body of people that don’t care. Younger people are more and more supportive and like a lot of social reform, it’s just a matter of the old folk dying out.


  10. John – For your objection to be significant in the overall context of this poll, we need a theory to explain why the sheer number of jurisdictions would have a big effect on the answer to the substantive issue of whether we should recognise same-sex marriages from other countries, AND that answers to this question would significantly influence the question of whether we would have gay marriage in Australia. Neither seems highly likely to me, especially given that the overall conclusion to be drawn from these polls is not turning on small margins – in the younger age groups there are very large majorities – 2:1 or more – in favour of gay marriage.


  11. I’m with you, Shem. I can’t for the life of me see why, outside of protection of persons, the state should have any role in regulating, and ruling in or out, relationships to which adults have agreed.

    If your new de facto status grants you legal equality with married couples, then may I suggest that you and ‘significant other’ simply buy rings, arrange a ceremony and declare yourselves married. In fact I think you should do this anyway. There’s one in the eye for the nanny state.


  12. Shem – Doesn’t this mean you get less money?

    Jeremy – I don’t entirely agree with you on this one, for reasons partly explained in this old post. Though less likely to be relevant in gay marriages, most marriages result in parties not present at the time of the original contract (ie kids) and in whom one party usually makes a disproportionate investment. A law of marriage, or more precisely divorce, helps protect the interests of the main parent and the kids.


  13. You don’t think there has been “issue specific campaigning”?

    Groups disrupted the meetings of the American Psychological Association until they they dropped homosexuality as a mental disorder. There has also been a lot of campaigning in the media, both in the news, on talk shows and in entertainment. Granted, other than in Frisco there was no precint canvassing, but this has hardly been a natural evolution. Just because the propaganda and stumping has been slick and smart, which it has been, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been HEAVY campaigning.


  14. Andrew (at 10) – Please see my response (at 3) for one theory. As or the rest of your comments, you already have my thoughts on a classical liberal approach to marriage, and on the speculative points, we shall all have to wait and see. Thank you for responding at length! The discussion has been fruitful.

    – JH


  15. Protection of the interests of the children and the main parent could fall under my ‘protection of persons’ caveat (broadly interpreted – I hadn’t thought specifically of that at the time of writing).

    There might also be a contract to which the parties could agree at the beginning of the relationship, to protect their interests and possibly even those of the children.


  16. Dreadnought – Yes, I do appreciate people getting my name right; I wasn’t suggesting that I’d been misquoted, merely taking the opportunity to provide context that I thought some readers might appreciate.

    I don’t think Fowler on “(sic)” helps your case much either.


  17. Property law deals with property and the Family Court deals with maintenance for children etc. Parents have legal responsibilities as individuals, not as a couple. Apart from tangential functions like next of kin, marriage is merely social symbolism co-opted by the state to engender social control. It is archaic and almost entirely irrelevant. It has nothing to do with real sexual or relationship behaviour. Shem is right – the simplest thing to do is delete the marriage laws.


  18. Fitztoyalty – Formal or deemed marriage is still significant in the law, particularly in the distribution of assets on relationship breakdown. You won’t have a claim on someone else’s assets -or they on yours – unless you have been in an actual or deemed marital relationship.


  19. Shem – Doesn’t this mean you get less money?

    A little less, yes.

    It’s unfortunate that people on welfare are discouraged from living in cost-sharing arrangements such as a committed relationship. You’d think that if people were financially better off to keep living together it may help some of the break-down of welfare-reliant families. But instead Centrelink is effectively punishing people for living together while people paying tax are incentivised for living together.

    This is the problem with the government regulation of marriage, or at least how marriage and relationships are currently regulated. Marriage is largely about money (did anyone see the final few episodes of Boston Legal) and government complicates that matter even more by making it be even more about money.

    There are other aspects to marriage and “social good” arguments that Andrew puts forward. But I think the Family Courts would be best off dealing with these things from a case law/ convention driven point of view. Relationships can vary in the extreme and I don’t think having a single law for marriage is the best way to capture what is right for a particular couple (and their children, if any).

    Family law really is a complicated mess, though. Particularly stupid, in my opinion, is the fact that the government can decide that a particular couple is De Facto and force a relationship status on them. One of my friends, who lives with her ex-boyfriend that she is still on good terms with, had to jump through hoops to prove that she was single when trying to get unemployment benefits. Abolish marriage laws and replace welfare with a “citizen’s wage”. Having spouses being forced to count as “dependent” is quite weird, anyway. Treat people, even in relationships, as singles and I think you might even see relationship stability increase! It won’t be a choice between divorce and dependency- instead there will be varying levels of autonomy, even in marriage.

    Anyway, they are just some thoughts I had on the subject. As for “gay marriage”, unfortunately I still feel I need to push for marriage and get married as a psychological thing… a way of rebelling against the discrimination. My desire for relationship equality (the current situation isn’t equal and even civil unions are often lacking) outweighs my desire to see the government step away from marriage.


  20. Shem – As a taxpayer, I support the current lower rates for couples compared to singles. There are significant economies of scale from living together, and it is reasonable that the benefits of these be split between welfare beneficiaries and those who are financially supporting them. While these rules may encourage some couples to live apart, I think the number is likely to be low – both because they want to live together money aside and because they are unlikely to increase their disposable income living separately.


  21. I have to admit to being surprised at the articles in the gay press about the impacts of the decreased welfare benefits for couples, as the transitional arrangements (if any) should have been addressed in the campaign for the changed policy. I remember Amanda Vanstone or Helen Coonan using the reduced welfare benefits as a reason for not changing the law to include same-sex couples!

    Any transitional arrangements would have to have been considered by the people writing the detail of the policy.

    But back on the topic of the post – changes to the law to allow gay marriage probably are inevitable if people’s attitudes don’t change much as they get older. I wouldn’t be surprised if the law changes in the next twenty years and these changes are accompanied with general acceptance, especially as gay marriage is sanctioned by an increasing number of jurisdictions.


  22. Andrew- I understand that anything that reduces the welfare burden is favourable on the surface. But I think having to report relationship status is invasive and paternalistic. I also have to wonder just how much it costs Centrelink to try and confirm these relationships. What is the actual operation cost of Centrelink per customer? Because there is so much over-administration and b/s in dealing with them. It’s one reason why I find the idea of a non-means tested citizen wage or flat NIT appealing.

    I also think that people have plenty of cost-reducing options available to them in life, whether that be being in a relationship, living in the outer suburbs or shopping from discount stores. I don’t think the government should punish people for saving money- even if its money they gave out.

    I do understand your sentiment, but on the balance I’m against payment rates or taxation rates changing based on relationship status.


  23. Shem – I agree that Centrelink is often invasive, though except for mutual obligation I would not call it paternalistic. But with 9% of the adult population in de facto relationships, and probably more among the non-retired Centrelink client base, there would be some serious levels of taxapayers’ money in the distinction.

    And accommodation is the easiest major expense to achieve major economies on. It’s by far my largest expense after taxation, but I could add another person for probably less than 1% more cost – a bit of extra electricity.


  24. Right, but why should it matter whether you’re sharing in a group house or sharing with someone you’re in a relationship with? In the end it comes down to Centrelink wanting to know if you’re having sex with any of your housemates which is more than a little creepy.


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