Even Gay Marriage Opponents Know the Debate Is All But Over

A new poll shows that even staunch opponents of gay marriage see its full legalization as inevitable.

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Election night 2012 was a huge one for the gay rights movement, as Maryland, Washington and Maine all legalized gay marriage, while Minnesota thumped a gay marriage ban. Minnesota then followed through by formally legalizing gay marriage this year, as did Rhode Island and Delaware.

With each state that falls into the gay marriage column, it looks more and more inevitable that, eventually, the entire nation will follow suit. And a new Pew Research Center poll shows that nearly three-quarters of Americans – 72 percent – believe that legal recognition of gay marriage is a fait accompli. And as Pew noted, "the rising sense of inevitability is most notable among some of the groups that tend to be the least supportive of gay marriage itself:"

The share of Republicans who see gay marriage as inevitable rose from 47% to 73% over the past nine years. While there was a steep partisan divide in 2004, now there is none: Republicans are just as likely as Democrats (72%) and independents (74%) to see legal recognition of same-sex marriage as inevitable.

Similarly, in 2004 71% of 18-29 year-olds felt that gay marriage was inevitable, compared with 45% of those age 65 and older. Today there is no such divide: 69% of both the youngest and oldest hold this view.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

The poll also has other encouraging numbers, including that fewer Americans say they would be upset if their son or daughter were gay or lesbian, and more people favor gay and lesbian couples raising children.

This seems to be due, in no small part, to the fact that most Americans now say that they know someone who is gay or lesbian. As Pew noted, "even holding demographic factors constant, those who have many gay acquaintances, or close gay friends and family members, are more likely to favor same-sex marriage than those who do not." This is, of course, what led Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to change his mind on marriage equality, and it's not too surprising that a lot of other Americans have had a similar experience.

NBA center Jason Collins and Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers have made hugely important strides for the gay rights movement recently, becoming the first out athletes in major American male sports. (The Pew poll found that Ellen DeGeneres is the most recognized gay or lesbian public figure, followed by Collins.) Having recognizable figures in more areas of public life who are openly gay will, hopefully, show more and more people that society's increasing tolerance won't cause it to fall apart – as so many opponents of marriage equality have spent so long claiming – but in fact make it stronger.