Talking Points

Gay marriage is the left's biggest culture war victory

A new Gallup poll tells us that 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, up from 60 percent in 2015 (when the Supreme Court declared it a constitutional right) — and up all the way from 27 percent when the polling firm first posed the question back in 1996. That's an increase in support of 43 percentage points — from around a quarter to more than two thirds of the country — in just 25 years. That makes gay marriage the left's greatest triumph in the culture war by far.

As journalist Matthew Yglesias notes in a tweet, Republicans should be grateful that Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy (author of the landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges) took the issue out of the political arena, since the GOP otherwise would have found itself on the wrong side of a potent wedge issue for a long time to come. (Though one wonders how long, given that the new poll also shows that a solid majority of Republican voters — 55 percent — support gay marriage as well.)

But this just highlights even more vividly the distinctiveness of gay marriage among the issues wrapped up with the culture war. Abortion, by contrast, became the first major front in the culture war because of a Supreme Court decision — and nearly a half-century later public opinion appears close to frozen on the issue. About a fifth of the country wants abortion banned in all cases. A somewhat larger share wants it legal in all cases. And around half of the country is found in the muddy middle, leaning in favor of keeping it legal but deeply troubled when pregnancies are terminated after the first trimester.

The latest front in the culture war, over trans issues, is quite fraught as well. Polls show strong support for legal protections for transgender people but also considerable resistance to other items on the agenda of many activists.

But gay marriage is different. I suspect that's because it built on the way people had already learned to think about marriage — as a personal choice based on a subjective experience of love for another person. If that's the case, then the left can certainly celebrate its victory on the issue. But it shouldn't treat that success as a broader sign of conservative weakness across the culture war's many other fronts.