I've heard lots of people say recently that passing gay marriage this fall is going to be an easy-peasy slam dunk. Think again. Even though US voters are increasingly supportive of marriage equality and even though our legislature passed it fairly easily last winter, the latest polling from SurveyUSA shows only 50 percent of voters in Washington State support it:
This is not good. Going into an election with less than 55 percent support is considered a dicey gamble. But the poll released this week shows gay marriage doesn't even have a majority of support, which means that opponents need only keep the 7 percent of undecided voters afraid and peel off a fraction of support to defeat the measure in November. And while other polls have shown it doing slightly better—ranging from 47 percent to 54 percent—all of them show losing would be easy. After all, in Maine in 2009, marriage equality was narrowly leading in the polls before being defeated by a six-point margin on election day.
Am I fear-mongering a bit?
Probably. But this is nothing compared to the fear-mongering we're about to see from anti-gay national groups. In Maine, support slipped after ads opposing gay marriage warned voters that priests and churches would lose their rights to practice religion, gay marriage would be taught in schools, and society would devolve into a year-round, swingin' Saturnalia. No lie is too big for these folks. In Washington we've probably got it worse: We're facing a triumvirate of powerful opposition from the National Organization for Marriage, the Catholic Church in Seattle, and local anti-gay groups. Those three are certain to spend million of dollars—and this poll shows they could prevail.
Gay-marriage opponents have never lost at the ballot, and they are prepared to do anything to make sure 2012 isn't the year and Washington State isn't the place where they lose their first major battle.
It's true, of course, that undecided voters in that pie chart could split evenly, giving same-sex marriage a narrow win in November, or that outright support will creep up. But not if we just cross our fingers. Conventional wisdom and lots of past votes show that undecided voters tend to reject change. So if we want to win—and we can win—nothing should be taken for granted. There is a path to victory for marriage equality in Washington State. Washington United for Marriage has a game plan. But it's not going to happen on its own. It's going to take an incredible investment from the public.