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Gay Marriage Public Support More Likely in States Where Marriage Laws Are Challenged

[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law and estate planning.]

Public support for gay marriage has increased in every state over the last ten years. However, Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, notes that public support increases most in states where cases about same sex marriage have reached the highest court:

In states where same-sex marriage cases have reached the top courts, residents support same-sex marriage at higher levels than in states with no court rulings. . . . The three states that have had pro-gay decisions in place the longest – Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey – have had steeper rises in support of gay marriage than the national average.

I think there's a couple reasons  why public support is higher when marriage laws are challenged.

First, judicial challenges raise public awareness of the issue. When a case reaches the state's highest court, It puts the topic in everyday conversation, forcing people to take sides. Perhaps people don't want to appear too conservative on social issues, and once forced to support it in conversation, commit to that support.

Second, court cases may be more likely in states where support for gay marriage has already increased. The more public support for gay marriage increases, the less state laws disallowing it reflect what people want. So, it makes it more likely that people will challenge the laws.

I'm interested in whether public support is also more likely when laws other than marriage are challenged. Would public support for gay marriage increase with court cases about gay adoption and domestic partnership rights?

I suspect it would.

Such cases, even when not about marriage itself, probably put all the “gay rights issues” in public conversation. Further, cases about these side issues could reflect situations where state constitutions make gay marriage laws difficult to change judicially.

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Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper