Massachusetts Gay Marriage: Five Years Later

Massachusetts Gay Marriage: Five Years Later

By Maggie Gallagher - May 20, 2009

Five years after same-sex couples first began to enter legal marriages -- recognized by court order -- in Massachusetts, what do voters in the Bay State think about gay marriage?

A new poll commissioned by my organization, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Massachusetts Family Institute indicates that voters remain sharply and surprisingly divided about gay marriage.

When asked, "Do you personally favor or oppose same-sex marriage generally?" 43 percent of Massachusetts voters favor same-sex marriage and 44 percent oppose it, with the remainder saying they don't know or choosing not to respond.

The telephone survey of 306 people taken March 30 to March 31, 2009, is representative of voters in Massachusetts and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percent.

Massachusetts voters were also divided on the question of whether opponents of gay marriage should be free to act on the view that same-sex unions are not marriages. A plurality (50 percent) agreed with the statement, "People should be free to practice their belief, even if it means they will not treat same-sex couples the same as other married couples." Thirty-nine percent disagreed, and 11 percent didn't know or gave no response.

I have argued that over time gay marriage will weaken support for the idea that marriage really matters because children need a mom and dad.

Massachusetts voters were also asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "All things being equal, it is better for children to be raised by their married mother and father." Seventy-six percent of voters agreed (66 percent strongly) while 21 percent disagreed (13 percent strongly).

A similar question was asked in a 2004 poll of Massachusetts residents. In 2004, 84 percent of Massachusetts residents agreed (33 percent strongly) and 16 percent disagreed (2 percent strongly). Thus, in the five years since gay marriage became a reality in Massachusetts, support for the idea that the ideal is a married mother and father dropped from 84 percent to 76 percent. The proportion who disagreed strongly increased nearly sevenfold, from 2 percent in 2004 to 13 percent in 2009.

The NOM/MFI poll is also the first poll in the nation to attempt to measure the extent to which ordinary citizens feel free to oppose gay marriage in a state where gay marriage has been declared a constitutional right and is the law of the land. I know from personal conversations that at least some folks in Massachusetts are afraid to speak up for their views. But how widespread are these fears?

A surprisingly substantial minority of voters in this poll expressed fears that open opposition to gay marriage might result in retaliation or harassment of some kind.

For example, 36 percent of all Massachusetts voters agreed with the statement, "Some people I know personally would be reluctant to admit they oppose gay marriage because they would worry about the consequences for them or their children." (Twenty-four percent agreed strongly.)

A further 36 percent of voters who oppose gay marriage agreed with the statement, "If you speak out against gay marriage in Massachusetts you really have to watch your back because some people may try to hurt you." (Twenty-six percent agreed strongly.) Fifteen percent of voters who oppose gay marriage say they personally know someone who experienced harassment or intimidation because of their belief that marriage involves a man and a woman.

The NOM/MFI Massachusetts Marriage Poll thus documents a fairly significant level of apprehension among voters who oppose gay marriage about the consequences of speaking openly or acting on their belief that marriage means a husband and wife.

What difference has gay marriage made five years later? Support for the idea that children need a mom and dad has dropped, and a substantial minority of people believe it is risky to oppose gay marriage openly.

Maggie Gallagher

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