Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Tipping Point for Marriage Equality? A Good Reminder.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm awful at math, let alone applying statistical analysis to any sort of collected data.

Luckily for me, Andrew Gelman of Columbia University has done the work for me when applying data collected over a period of fifteen years on marriage equality and LGBT rights.

In his article, "Gay Marriage: a tipping point?" he clearly reports on Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips use of "multilevel regression and poststratification to estimate attitudes toward gay rights in the states...using national opinion polls from 1994 through 2009 and analyzed several different opinion questions on gay rights."

Don't ask me. But here's the cool part. Graphs! Since I'm the visual type (and I'm assuming many of you are, too), these are much easier to read.

Lax & Phillips Marraige Equality Civil Unions Graph

Gelman reports, "In the past fifteen years, gay marriage has increased in popularity in all fifty states. No news there, but what was a surprise to me is where the largest changes have occurred. The popularity of gay marriage has increased fastest in the states where gay rights were already relatively popular in the 1990s."

Why is this surprising? Because Gelman expected to see a "uniform swing" or "the lowest values increasing the most and the highest values declining, relative to the average. But that's not what's happening at all."

So why is this happening? Gelman says it's the "tipping point." As LGBT rights become more accepted and more people come out of the closet in a particular state, then "straight people realize how many of their friends and relatives are gay, they're more likely to be supportive of gay rights."

On the other end of the spectrum, if rights are restricted in a particular state, the LGBT population stays in the closet, "and thus the knowing-and-accepting process will go slower."

Unfortunately, it's a chicken or the egg paradox. LGBT don't want to come out of the closet where they're not accepted, but then if they don't, winning their rights takes longer, thus feeding the discrimination. So what comes first? Rights or acceptance?

Though this information is fascinating in its presentation, this conundrum is nothing new to the LGBT population. Harvey Milk's message during the Briggs Initiative touched on it.
I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country ... We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets ... We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.
What this study does do is remind us that being ourselves is the key to winning our rights and actively changing hearts and minds. But it's also a good reminder for us to support our fellow LGBT to find the courage to take that necessary step out of the closet to make that difference.

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