Middle say 'I do' to gay marriage?
That answer can be yes, based on our four years of extensive research into that precise question if marriage supporters heed three crucial lessons about how the middle views this issue.
First, the "rights" frame is wrong. One word emerged during our nine rounds of research that described how Americans in the middle view marriage: commitment.
In fact, when undecided Americans were asked what marriage means to them, "commitment" came up four times as often as the word "love." "Rights" never came up not once. To folks in the middle, marriage is about making a promise to care for each other for a lifetime, through better or worse.
They often focused on the latter because that is what makes marriage unique from other relationships. To them, marriage is about one thing: the obligation and responsibility that comes with making a public promise of lifetime commitment.
Second, the middle needs to know that gay couples want to join the institution of marriage not change it.
In our polling, folks in the middle weren't sure why gay couples want to marry. When asked why "couples like them" might want to marry, the middle's answer grew out of their conception of the institution, with nearly six in 10 saying it is "to publicly acknowledge their love and commitment to each other."
But why do gay couples want to marry? A plurality said it is "for rights and benefits like tax advantages, hospital visitation or sharing a spouse's pension." Another 25 percent said, "I don't know."
Given that marriage advocates have long made their case by focusing on the rights and benefits of marriage, it only follows that many Americans in the middle are confused about gay couples' motivations.
But this misconception is dangerous. Most couples don't marry for tax advantages and visitation rights they marry for profound reasons of love and commitment. Among those who felt gay couples want marriage for other reasons, their feelings toward marriage for gay couples were skeptical.
By: LANAE ERICKSON HATALSKY and JIM KESSLER