Look, conservatives are always a dying breed, “standing athwart history, yelling stop.” One generation or two ago, opposition to segregation was trending down and conservatives were upset. Today, most publicly say that segregation was horrible but laws against gay marriages are great. Next generation, conservatives will be all about gay marriage but opposed to some other thing that they’ll lose on.
The analogy doesn’t really work, as the issue of same-sex marriage is fundamentally a definitional question–homosexuals are and always have been allowed to marry the same people heterosexuals marry. Identical legal restrictions apply to everyone. That is not the case with legalized segregation, where whites are permitted to use one designated drinking fountain while blacks use a different one.
For the comparison to work, segregation would have to have meant one fountain dispensing Jagermeister that everybody, black and white, could drink from, while hidden away from view was another fountain pouring forth Hennessy from which no one was allowed to drink.
It is also infinitely frustrating to leftists (although few will admit as much) that those putatively suffering the most from past segregation in the US are the most hostile to granting marriages to same-sex couples. Considering responses from 2000-2008, only 22.6% of blacks favor doing so, compared to 34.3% of Hispanics, 36.9% of whites, and 41.9% of Asians.
Enough digression from the purpose of this post. Those who reflexively defend traditional morality are, in the face of change, by definition going to be the ones yelling “stop” most of the time. As Michael Blowhard explains (albeit in a discussion of architecture), that is probably the preferred default position:
Tradition: Practices based in experience that almost always succeed.
Deviation should only arise when the evidence is unequivocally compelling.
Are progressive causes overcoming the moribund opposition of social conservatives in the US? Razib has stated, correctly I think, that same-sex marriage is a battle traditionalists are going to lose. While conservative opposition to it has actually strengthened slightly over the last several years, self-described moderates and liberals are moving in support of it four times as rapidly as conservatives are moving against it.
The GSS allows for positions on five major social issues–abortion, capital punishment, drug legalization, wealth redistribution, and school prayer–to be tracked from the seventies to the present. Affirmative action is first asked about in 1994. Respondents were queried on same-sex marriage in 1988, but a 16-year hiatus followed, presumably because Americans at the time were overwhelmingly opposed to it to the extent that it seemed silly to divert energy away from other survey items for something so lopsided. The following graph shows the percentage of those who either “agree” or “strongly agree” that homosexuals should have the right to marry one another.
Shifting opinions on same-sex marriage is the big victory those on the social left are able to claim.
A similar but quieter trend is evident on the question of drug legalization, for which support bottomed out during the height of crack epidemic and has since slowly but steadily risen. There is reason to suspect it may now be plateauing in the near future, however. The highest level of support for legalization is currently found among those in their late twenties. Looking only at responses from 2004 to 2008, 50.3% of those aged 26-30 favor legalization. Their younger siblings are far less enthusiastic. Among those aged 18-25, only 33.7% want to legalize marijuana use (the question is dichotomous, thus 66.3% are opposed). Their dopey baby boomer parents are more permissive than they are–of those aged 43-58, 40.2% support legalization.
Perceptions on other hot-buttons do not follow JA’s trajectory. Support for abortion rights is flat and may have topped out despite longstanding legal sanction. A recent Gallup poll showed for the first time since the polling organization began tracking the question in 1995 that a majority of Americans self-describe as “pro-life”.
Like support for drug legalization, opposition to the death penalty hit a nadir during the crack epidemic of the mid-eighties to early-nineties and has since returned to the level it hovered around during the seventies, but it is a minority view and will probably suffer again if the pattern of lessening violent crime reverses sometime in the future.
Affirmative action, when described as giving special preference to minorities at the expense of whites, has never been popular and this shows no signs of changing in the near future (although the long-term demographic transition the US is currently experiencing could effect it down the road, as NAMs are far more supportive of it than whites are). This explains why US Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor tried to smother the Ricci case to death without anyone noticing, rather than vociferously proclaiming the city of New Haven to be in the right, as she believes it to be.
The subsequent graph is based on a seven-point scale for responses, with a 1 representing the highest level of support for the government reducing income differences and a 7 representing the lowest level of support for it. The percentage of respondents who answered with a 1, 2, or 3 are shown.
Support for government wealth redistribution has essentially remained unchanged from where it was three decades ago. It dipped a little in the year of Reagan’s election to the presidency and also during the Gingrich-led Republican insurgency of 1994, but in both cases subseqeuntly crept back up to the 50% mark it centers upon.
Support for the banning of sanctioned prayer in public schools, a legal reality since the 1963 US Supreme Court ruling in favor of Schempp, has treaded water for the last 25 years. The court’s majority opinion has always been a minority opinion among the American public, although it should be noted that there is probably some confusion among respondents when the question is posed. It asks whether or not schools should lead prayer, not if prayer should be permitted among students acting on their own. If fleshed out in this way, support for banning it would likely be higher. That said, the primary purpose here is to look at trends over time, and there is nothing that indicates current respondents are less clear on what is being asked than their counterparts in the past were.