Fears that a pro-marriage equality ruling at the Supreme Court in the next two weeks might provoke a public backlash against LGBT Americans are unfounded, according to a new analysis by a group of political scientists.
The four scholars — Benjamin Bishin, Thomas Hayes, Matthew Incantalupo, and Charles Anthony Smith — wrote up a series of fictitious stories, including one involving a pro-marriage equality court ruling in Oregon, and asked members of the public to rate their “feelings” towards LGBT Americans after hearing the stories on a scale of 0-100. The idea is that if pro-equality rulings provoked public resentment the pace of social change, Americans asked to imagined a world of court-granted equality would direct some of that preemptive resentment towards LGBT Americans.
The study found no such thing. Writing at the political science blog The Monkey Cage, Bishin et al. report that “we find no evidence of backlash in any of the groups that saw a story related to gay marriage or gay rights (of in all of these groups combined).” “In fact,” they write, “the public as a whole appears to have become more favorably disposed toward gays and lesbians.”
These results held among both evangelicals and Americans who were “dissatisfied” with the direction of the country, two of the groups most likely to backlash against a court ruling. They also held both before and after the oral arguments in the recent Supreme Court cases about marriage nationalized the perception of court rulings, suggesting that the fact that the hypothetical took place in Oregon wasn’t enough to dismiss the story as “not threatening” to the country as a whole.
Historical experience backs up the scholars’ finding. Support for marriage equality in Massachusetts and Iowa did not drop off and, according to most polling, continued to increase after each state’s court ruled in favor of equality.
The origins of the backlash theory rest in the abortion debate. Many have argued that Roe v. Wade galvanized the religious right while deflating pro-choice activists. However, the religious right began organizing effectively well before Roe v. Wade, and the significant differences in public support for abortion and marriage equality suggest that, even if the backlash story were true, it wouldn’t apply if the Court decided to make marriage equality the law of the land.