Thursday, October 09, 2014

Support for SSM continues to grow, but unevenly. (Also, what constitutes a "large portion" of a population?)

I recently saw this graphic from YouGov about the various levels of support and opposition for same-sex marriage:

Pretty cool graphic. The accompanying text pointed out that "Americans who are likely to vote in the upcoming elections tend to support (48%) rather than oppose (39%) allowing gays and lesbians to marry." This confirms reporting about polls showing general support in the US population for SSM. And - unlike inter-racial marriage - the popular position is leading the legal position, as xkcd shows in another of his amazing graphs:

Pretty neat stuff, especially for data, graph, and map nerds like me.

And then... I read the comments...
Well, I made the mistake of reading the comments, and I found - at the end of one relatively short string of back-and-forth - a statement by "William," who (for some reason) couldn't understand how the non-discrimination language of the 14th Amendment worked to alter the 1st Amendment. (In brief - and remember: IANAL - the 1st Amendment disallows Congress from making state laws about the establishment and practice of religions. The 14th Amendment disallows any state from discrimination, even if it's religiously justified discrimination. There. Not too hard to understand.) This is what he wrote:
Where is the lack of equal protection? Gay people have equal protection. What gay people want is a special classification for their perverted behavior and for everyone to accept that perverted behavior. Acceptance of the homosexual perverted behavior will Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States.

Concerning sentences 1 & 2
Well... The first two sentences are a patent misunderstanding (whether deliberate or not) of why anti-SSM creates a lack of equal protections. Maybe William should go read explanations online (such as at Wikipedia).

Concerning sentence 3
The third statement (discounting the obvious and heavily biased point of view) is just a case of special pleading on his part. As Ricky Gervais points out:
Same sex marriage is not gay privilege, it's equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. Like churches don't.
I couldn't have said it more succinctly. But perhaps William just doesn't like Ricky Gervais. Well, the edited volume by Rimmerman and Wilcox has a better explanation as to why SSM isn't a "special classification" and isn't actually the conferral of special privileges:
Antigay groups insist that allowing gay couples to marry represents granting gay people a special right on top of the right they already have. ... The Family Research Council compares laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples to laws preventing cousins from marrying and laws preventing adults from marrying children... "since these restrictions apply equally to every individual" (Sprigg 2003).
          In other words, since a gay man could marry a woman and a lesbian could marry a man (as many gay people have done -- often resulting in unhappy and dysfunctional marriages), they have the right to marry. But for a person who is attracted to and capable of falling in love with someone of the same sex, such freedom or right is pretty meaningless. In fact, these restrictions do not "apply equally to every individual" but limit the ability of gay people only to protect their life partner relationships.
          People on death row, mass murderers, rapists, and child molesters can all get married as long as they are marrying someone of the opposite sex. Yet gay and lesbian people are denied this fundamental right because the people they love are of the same sex. Their right to marry someone of the opposite sex doesn't mean much; it doesn't allow them to marry the person they love.
(Emphasis mine. Emphasis in the original.)

Perhaps William would respond with some version of the slippery slope argument (since many anti-SSM arguments usually fall back on some version of the argument of, "Well, if we allow men to marry other men, then what's to stop plural marriage, incest, or bestiality?" I'll let John Corvino take this one.

Concerning Statement 4 (the real "Hunh?!?" statement to me at this time)
But it was the last statement that had me scratching my head: "Acceptance of the homosexual perverted behavior will Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States."

Ummm... But SSM is already accepted and supported by the majority of the United States population. This - by definition - means that SSM IS "accepted by a large portion of the United States."

A recent Pew poll shows a 54% majority in favor of same-sex marriage, and the anti-SSM position is only 39% and falling.

In other words, "the homosexual perverted behavior" that William contends will "Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States" is actually - right now, today, throughout the United States - accepted by the majority of the populace. This means that the largest portion of the United States supports "the homosexual perverted behavior" (or at least allowing people who are homosexual to get married to another person of the same sex).

Now, William could say that what he actually meant by "large portion" is actually some portion of the population that is smaller than the majority, but that is still "large." But that raises the question of when is a "large portion" no longer large? Based on nothing more than the idea of a pluarlity being a portion large enough to become a ruling party (and assuming a three-party system like in the UK), I'd argue that 33.333% (i.e., 1/3 of the population) is scraping the bottom of credulity for what it means to be a "large portion." (I could have used the Italian multi-multi-multi-party system, but that case is far more complex than the three-majority-party system of the UK.)

(As a side note, I'd extend the above logic to say that  anything less than 1/3 changes is no longer a "large portion," and it enters into "minority" territory, although I'd be generous and say that anything more than 1/10 makes a group a "sizeable minority," but a minority nonetheless. In other words, if a position is supported by less than 1/3 of the population, I'd argue that it's not a position held by a "large portion" of the population.)

Now time for a thought experiment!
Okay, now that we've got a cut-off of what a (semi-credible) definition of "large portion" actually might be (I'm saying that it's 1/3 of the population), we need to determine how quickly the anti-SSM position will fall below that threshold. We have data from Pew on anti-SSM polling, and it's apparent that - since 2009 - there has been a relatively linear trend (whereas before 2009, anti-SSM sentiment bounced around without any major trend). Now, given this strong trend since 2009, let's just assume that the popular trends of anti-SSM from the Pew poll continue along the paths of the that they have been on since 2009. (Yes, I am well aware of the problems of doing linear extrapolations into the future, but this is just a simple thought experiment.) Plugging the data into Excel, we get a linear trend for the anti-SSM from 2009-2014 has an R^2 of 0.9069 (which is pretty friggin' high, given that the maximum is an R^2 of 1), and using the regression equation, we get the following projection:

2015: 36.07%
2016: 33.44%
2017: 30.81%
2018: 28.19%
2019: 25.56%
2020: 22.92%

Yowzers. If the anti-SSM trend continues (and that's a big if, supported by nothing other than arm-waving conjecture), then it will be around 2016 that the portion of the US that holds William's position drops below 1/3 of the country, and - as such - it can no longer be counted as a "large portion." Furthermore, it will be sometime in 2020 that the portion of the US that holds William's position can no longer (at least in my books) be counted as a "sizable minority."

But what if I took the entirety of Pew's polling, and go all the way back to 1996? Well, the slope will be less steep, which does change the resulting percentages (but the R^2 drops to 0.8853, which - admittedly - is still pretty good):
2015: 40.73%
2016: 39.34%
2017: 37.96%
2018: 36.57%
2019: 35.19%
2020: 33.80%

So... not as drastic. If we assume (again, based on nothing) that the overall trend from 1996-2014 is actually the more realistic trend in the anti-SSM position, then William's position will only cease to be a "large portion of the US population" sometime in 2021 by this estimation. Still 7, years is still a lot faster than his contention of "Never."

Of course, there's a reason for this trend: a major generational shift. As Pew reports on this crucially important fact:
"Currently, 68% of Millennials favor [SSM], compared with 55% of Gen Xers, 48% of Boomers and 38% of the Silent generation."

Or, to put it another way the kids (aged 5-13) in the video below will become eligible voters in 2018-2026 (when the members of the Silent generation will be aged from 73-88 in 2018 and 81-96 in 2026):