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Gay Marriage and Civil Unions: The Impact of Network Diversity on Opinion
Unformatted Document Text:  3 Introduction Somewhat lost among the general din of the 2006 mid-term election was the historic result of a ballot initiative in Arizona: voters rejected Proposition 107, a state constitutional amendment that would have prohibited marriage for same-sex couples. This event was notable because in the 27 other U.S. states where similar amendments have appeared on the ballot, they have passed every time, usually by significant margins (Human Rights Campaign, 2006). In rejecting this proposition, Arizona did not decide to allow same-sex couples to marry 1 – state law still restricts marriage to one woman and one man. Nevertheless, the decision was hailed by same-sex marriage advocates as both a victory and a turning point in public opinion about this contentious issue (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2006). There are several possible explanations for the failure of Proposition 107. It may be that widespread anti-Republican sentiment carried over to conservative-backed ballot initiatives, though this does not seem to have been the case in the eight other states that passed anti-gay marriage amendments on the same day. 2 It might also be the case that this was simply a random result – that with so many similar amendments before voters over the last few years, one was eventually bound to fail. Time may tell whether or not this was the case. However, a third explanation can be considered – that the voters of Arizona rejected Proposition 107 because, in addition to banning same-sex marriage, it would also have prohibited offering any spousal-like benefits to couples through civil unions or domestic partnerships. Though Arizona voters are still largely opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry, they may have decided that the Proposition 107 simply went too far by limiting other forms of same-sex relationship recognition. In recent years, Americans have grown more supportive of extending many civil protections to gay men and lesbians, 3 at times including civil unions, but they are still generally opposed to granting full marriage rights (Egan & Sherrill, 2005b). In fact, many gays and lesbians themselves are ambivalent about the matter (Egan & Sherrill, 2005a). Public opinion on many gay rights issues, including job discrimination protections and military service, has been studied and the literature suggests that religious beliefs and political ideology are often strongly associated with positions on such issues. However, efforts to extend marriage-like protections via civil unions or domestic partnerships are a relatively recent development in this policy area. We as researchers do not really know why individuals who do support recognizing same-sex relationships prefer one form over the other, though it appears that many people do. For example, some individuals who support full same-sex marriage express opposition to civil unions on equity grounds. Others argue that civil unions 1 Massachusetts is still the only state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 2 In Tennessee, an astonishing 81% of voters favored the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the state ballot (a 63% margin of victory). 3 The variety of terms describing individuals of same-gender sexual orientation is occasionally confusing. The term “gay” commonly refers both to men and women, but sometimes refers only to gay men, but the term “homosexual” is problematic for its historical association with negative stereotypes. In the interest of inclusiveness, the terms “gay” and “gay and lesbian” when used throughout this document refer to the entire population of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual men and women, unless specifically stated otherwise.

Authors: Jensen, Micah.
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background image
3
Introduction
Somewhat lost among the general din of the 2006 mid-term election was the historic result of a
ballot initiative in Arizona: voters rejected Proposition 107, a state constitutional amendment that
would have prohibited marriage for same-sex couples. This event was notable because in the 27
other U.S. states where similar amendments have appeared on the ballot, they have passed every
time, usually by significant margins (Human Rights Campaign, 2006). In rejecting this
proposition, Arizona did not decide to allow same-sex couples to marry
1
– state law still restricts
marriage to one woman and one man. Nevertheless, the decision was hailed by same-sex marriage
advocates as both a victory and a turning point in public opinion about this contentious issue
(National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2006).
There are several possible explanations for the failure of Proposition 107. It may be that
widespread anti-Republican sentiment carried over to conservative-backed ballot initiatives, though
this does not seem to have been the case in the eight other states that passed anti-gay marriage
amendments on the same day.
2
It might also be the case that this was simply a random result – that
with so many similar amendments before voters over the last few years, one was eventually bound
to fail. Time may tell whether or not this was the case. However, a third explanation can be
considered – that the voters of Arizona rejected Proposition 107 because, in addition to banning
same-sex marriage, it would also have prohibited offering any spousal-like benefits to couples
through civil unions or domestic partnerships. Though Arizona voters are still largely opposed to
allowing same-sex couples to marry, they may have decided that the Proposition 107 simply went
too far by limiting other forms of same-sex relationship recognition.
In recent years, Americans have grown more supportive of extending many civil protections to gay
men and lesbians,
3
at times including civil unions, but they are still generally opposed to granting
full marriage rights (Egan & Sherrill, 2005b). In fact, many gays and lesbians themselves are
ambivalent about the matter (Egan & Sherrill, 2005a). Public opinion on many gay rights issues,
including job discrimination protections and military service, has been studied and the literature
suggests that religious beliefs and political ideology are often strongly associated with positions on
such issues.
However, efforts to extend marriage-like protections via civil unions or domestic partnerships are a
relatively recent development in this policy area. We as researchers do not really know why
individuals who do support recognizing same-sex relationships prefer one form over the other,
though it appears that many people do. For example, some individuals who support full same-sex
marriage express opposition to civil unions on equity grounds. Others argue that civil unions
1
Massachusetts is still the only state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
2
In Tennessee, an astonishing 81% of voters favored the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the state
ballot (a 63% margin of victory).
3
The variety of terms describing individuals of same-gender sexual orientation is occasionally confusing. The term
“gay” commonly refers both to men and women, but sometimes refers only to gay men, but the term “homosexual” is
problematic for its historical association with negative stereotypes. In the interest of inclusiveness, the terms “gay” and
“gay and lesbian” when used throughout this document refer to the entire population of lesbians, gay men, and
bisexual men and women, unless specifically stated otherwise.


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