How much does the Supreme Court decision mirror US public opinion regarding same-sex marriage?

Maybe with the different judges of the Supreme Court also the verdict would be different, and it is the verdict of the court, so based on the legal arguments, but still, how much the decision of the Supreme Court reflects also the changes of attitudes of the US public towards homosexuals? Read few comments.

Kenneth WaldDistinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Florida

There’s an old saying that the Supreme Court follows the election returns which means that justices pay attention to public opinion.

Without massive changes in public attitudes to sexual orientation, it‘s doubtful that so many federal judges would have argued that marriage is a right that cannot constitutionally be restricted to heterosexuals. We know that Justice Kennedy, who has written all the important decisions advancing gay rights, was strongly influenced by his mentor who was widely believed to have been gay. I think that many people who once considered homosexuality aberrant or evil have learned through personal contact that gays are simply people. That has made a huge difference. Without this massive shift in perception, I think it’s unlikely judges would have insisted that marital status is a fundamental right.

This won’t end the fight, of course. It’s clear that the opponents of the decision are going to use the “religious freedom” argument to protect people who don’t want to deal with gays and lesbians. Several states have already passed laws that exempt public officials who object to gay marriage from performing them. I consider that blatantly unconstitutional because public officials have a responsibility to obey the law. It’s a bit less clear what to do about businesses that don’t want to cater to gays. We’ll have a lot of cases coming down the road on this issue.

Brian Powell, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Sociology, Indiana University

The Supreme Court decision mirrors US public opinion regarding same-sex marriage. In short period of time Americans views regarding gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage has changed dramatically. In fact, this is one of the most dramatic turnarounds in U.S. public opinions every documented. Approximately a decade ago, over 3/5th of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. Nearly every recent survey confirms that 3/5th of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Different groups may vary in the level of support for same-sex marriage, but we are seeing increasing support among nearly all groups (men and women, people of different age groups, people of different religions, and people of different races and ethnicities).

Jonathan Goldberg-HillerAssociate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Many kinds of research on the Supreme Court, including systematic studies of many decisions, suggest that the Court is very rarely a leader of public opinion, but often follows attitude changes and legal changes that have taken place in the various states. This case is no different. Social attitudes about same-sex marriage have been rapidly changing in the United States, and not only due to cultural reasons. Often it has been local and state-wide legal decisions, and a national legal strategy organized by some gay rights organizations, that have made the public ready for a broad decision. This need not be seen as all politics and no law, however. The predominant jurisprudential theories that guide constitutional interpretation vary around several issues, and one significant issue is whether the constitution can only be interpreted in light of the historical understandings that were present at its founding events (1789 ratification and, in this case, 1868 ratification of the 14th Amendment). Most of the conservatives on the Court who opposed same-sex marriage yesterday hold to this “originalist” position; they opposed the ruling on the basis that the Constitution’s framers and those who supported ratification would never have considered gay marriage a right. But the liberals use a different theory of interpretation that allows rights, liberty, and equality to have different senses in different historical eras. What seems to be just today, they argue, may not have appeared just several decades or centuries ago, but this doesn’t determine its constitutional or legal meaning. They agreed that doing justice today, taking into consideration prevailing ideas of liberty and equality, demanded announcing this new constitutional right to same-sex marriage. This idea of law, then, certainly takes into account changing attitudes towards gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities. But for these Justices on the Supreme Court, this only adds to the legal basis of their ruling.

Ken Sherrill, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Hunter College , CUNY

These judges reached the same conclusion in the Windsor case a couple of years ago before public opinion had shifted to today’s levels. Support was under 50% then and it’s 60% now. I think, however, that the shift in public opinion – and, importantly, the absence of backlash to the Windsor decision – gave judges in lower courts the ability to feel free to rule for marriage equality. The fact that none of the four conservatives on the court who opposed Windsor changed their minds in Obergefell indicates that they weren’t influenced by public opinion as much as they were influenced by their own beliefs.

Rogers Smith, Associate Dean for Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Polls show that a little over half of the American public now favor same-sex marriages, so the division in the Court closely maps the current attitudes in the country. But public opinion has been shifting rapidly in favor of same-sex marriages in recent years, with opposition dwindling in popular referenda compared to just a decade ago. Younger Americans favor LBGT rights overwhelmingly. There is no doubt that the Court sided with the rising tide of public opinion.

Michael Perry, Professor of Law, Emory University

See the polling data here. Among younger people–the upcoming generation–the support for same-sex marriage is, in a word, overwhelming!

Clyde WilcoxProfessor, Department of Government, Georgetown University

Different judges might have decided differently.  But by now around 60% of Americans agree with ruling?


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