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Gay Marriage and Civil Unions: The Impact of Network Diversity on Opinion
Unformatted Document Text:  5 question of marriage and civil unions. For example, it is conceivable that religious variables might be strongly associated with opinion on gay marriage, a ceremony with religious connotations for many, but religion might have a less significant association with opinion on civil unions, which are more often secular. Furthermore, religion may interact with social network diversity, a prospect for which I will also show evidence. Brewer (2003a and 2003b) examined cross-sectional data from the National Election Studies in 1992, 1996 and 2000 and found that support for laws prohibiting employment discrimination against gays increased and opposition weakened during this period. Brewer also found similar but even stronger changes in public support for allowing gays to serve in the military. Brewer found that the feeling thermometer was the strongest predictor of gay rights support. Less strong, but still significant, were the effects of political party identification (Democrats were more supportive), gender (women were more supportive than men) and religious belief and practice (negatively correlated). One additional factor that I expected to be relevant to this question has been largely ignored in the gay and lesbian political science literature – the effect of marriage itself. There are three reasons to suspect that marital status might play a role in opinion formation on this issue. First, individuals who are married could reasonably have a different perspective on the potential impact of allowing same-sex couples to marry than would those who are not married. For example, people who are married might feel more “protective” towards it, either for its symbolic value or any economic benefits that it provides, and be less willing to “share” it. Second, married couples may together constitute a small but particularly influential network. For example, Stoker & Jennings (1995) found that after marrying, wives and husbands influence each other’s voting turnout as their participation tends to converge over time. Finally, it is possible that heterosexual couples who choose not to marry may be opposed to marriage as an institution and this may impact their opinion on the issue. The literature suggests, then, that gender, education, income, race, religion and ideology, should be controlled for when examining opinion on gay and lesbian issues, but that they will not all necessarily prove to be significant predictors of opinion on every policy alternative. Affect appears to have an important role but affect can be strongly influenced by social contact, as I discuss next. Affect, Social Networks and Tolerance The most commonly offered explanation for the recent trends of warmer affect and greater support for gay rights is referred to as the contact theory (Herek & Glunt, 1993). In this view, as more gay men and lesbians “come out” to heterosexual family, friends, co-workers and others, any depersonalized fear or hostility the people may have towards gays and lesbians en masse may be reduced or overcome by the individual, interpersonal relationship; consequently, they also feel more warmly towards gays and lesbians as a group. Herek & Capitanio (1996) found that affect towards gays and lesbians was positively correlated with the respondent knowing a gay man or lesbian and that this effect was strongest when the gay or lesbian is a close friend, rather than an acquaintance or distant family member.

Authors: Jensen, Micah.
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5
question of marriage and civil unions. For example, it is conceivable that religious variables might
be strongly associated with opinion on gay marriage, a ceremony with religious connotations for
many, but religion might have a less significant association with opinion on civil unions, which are
more often secular. Furthermore, religion may interact with social network diversity, a prospect for
which I will also show evidence.
Brewer (2003a and 2003b) examined cross-sectional data from the National Election Studies in
1992, 1996 and 2000 and found that support for laws prohibiting employment discrimination
against gays increased and opposition weakened during this period. Brewer also found similar but
even stronger changes in public support for allowing gays to serve in the military. Brewer found
that the feeling thermometer was the strongest predictor of gay rights support. Less strong, but still
significant, were the effects of political party identification (Democrats were more supportive),
gender (women were more supportive than men) and religious belief and practice (negatively
correlated).
One additional factor that I expected to be relevant to this question has been largely ignored in the
gay and lesbian political science literature – the effect of marriage itself. There are three reasons to
suspect that marital status might play a role in opinion formation on this issue. First, individuals
who are married could reasonably have a different perspective on the potential impact of allowing
same-sex couples to marry than would those who are not married. For example, people who are
married might feel more “protective” towards it, either for its symbolic value or any economic
benefits that it provides, and be less willing to “share” it. Second, married couples may together
constitute a small but particularly influential network. For example, Stoker & Jennings (1995)
found that after marrying, wives and husbands influence each other’s voting turnout as their
participation tends to converge over time. Finally, it is possible that heterosexual couples who
choose not to marry may be opposed to marriage as an institution and this may impact their
opinion on the issue.
The literature suggests, then, that gender, education, income, race, religion and ideology, should
be controlled for when examining opinion on gay and lesbian issues, but that they will not all
necessarily prove to be significant predictors of opinion on every policy alternative. Affect appears
to have an important role but affect can be strongly influenced by social contact, as I discuss next.
Affect, Social Networks and Tolerance
The most commonly offered explanation for the recent trends of warmer affect and greater
support for gay rights is referred to as the contact theory (Herek & Glunt, 1993). In this view, as
more gay men and lesbians “come out” to heterosexual family, friends, co-workers and others, any
depersonalized fear or hostility the people may have towards gays and lesbians en masse may be
reduced or overcome by the individual, interpersonal relationship; consequently, they also feel
more warmly towards gays and lesbians as a group. Herek & Capitanio (1996) found that affect
towards gays and lesbians was positively correlated with the respondent knowing a gay man or
lesbian and that this effect was strongest when the gay or lesbian is a close friend, rather than an
acquaintance or distant family member.


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