Isn’t it time for Georgia’s Democratic, business and higher education leaders to publicly support gay marriage?
The Supreme Court has ruled that parts of the Defense of Marriage Act are unconstitutional, and the federal government has begun recognizing same-sex marriages from the 13 states that perform them.
Every major polling firm finds a majority of Americans favor allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry. The Pew Research Center finds 20 percent higher support today than just nine years ago. The pace of change is not only rapid, but widespread. My research shows acceptance of marriage equality has risen at least 10 percentage points among every race, religion, region and political persuasion since 2004, with more signs the pace is quickening than slowing.
Attitudes are changing rapidly even in Georgia. In 2004, 76 percent of us voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but my research indicates support for the practice is rising nearly 2 percentage points a year. Slightly more than 40 percent of Georgians currently favor same-sex marriage, with greater support among blacks and Latinos than whites. The state is now where the country was in 2004; if present trends continue, a majority of Georgians will favor same-sex marriage before 2020.
The speed of this trajectory has made it possible for President Barack Obama, 54 U.S. Senators (including two Republicans) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to reveal their support for allowing same-sex couples to marry, knowing that if a majority of their constituents do not currently support marriage equality, they soon will. Republicans are making a lackluster attempt to pass a constitutional amendment, but only two Georgia congressmen are co-sponsoring it; perhaps even Georgia Republicans recognize this is a battle they have lost.
With the national trajectory clear, what do Georgia’s Democratic, business and higher education leaders gain by staying silent? My research indicates most Georgia Democrats now favor same-sex marriage, and independents are almost evenly split on the issue. By 2020, strong majorities of both Democrats and independents are likely to favor it. Democrats in statewide runs in 2014 take a risk by endorsing marriage equality, but those considering 2020 races would be fools to oppose it now.
Atlanta business and education leaders also need to start moving Georgia into the 21st century on this issue. The creative class is one of the engines of the U.S. economy, and knowledge workers want to live in tolerant environments. Can Atlanta, the capital of the New South, attract high-tech industries if Georgia refuses to acknowledge the change going on throughout the economy?
My partner and I were reluctant to leave the social openness of Washington, D.C., to accept university jobs in the Deep South 14 years ago, but we gave up little in terms of legal rights. With full marriage equality available in so many states, moving here now would mean transforming ourselves from spouses into legal strangers. We would not make that sacrifice, and neither will many other gay and lesbian couples Georgia universities and firms want to recruit.
Gregory B. Lewis is professor and chairman of the Department of Public Management and Policy at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.