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Same-sex marriage gains favor in NY

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ben Margot

If you don't believe in progress, consider this: In 2004, when Quinnipiac University pollsters asked New York voters about gay marriage, 55 percent were opposed. When they asked again this year, Quinnipiac found a complete reversal: 56 percent were in favor.

In New York nowadays, even young Barbara Bush supports same-sex marriage - despite having a father, President George W. Bush, who supported a constitutional ban on such nuptials. Last week, in a speech at Hofstra University, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would push for a vote on the issue in the legislature this year.

Let's face it. Gay marriage is a sure thing in this state, and it would be nice if our legislators would make some effort to get their holdout constituents comfortable with the notion - although many constituents are already more comfortable with it than their representatives are.

In some quarters, opposition to same-sex marriage has come to seem little more than a charade. At one point, when state legislative candidates were visiting Newsday seeking the paper's endorsement, one thoughtful Republican incumbent said he was opposed because his constituents were. But, he added, "It's inevitable."

The Quinnipiac poll can help us understand why. Support for same-sex marriage was about the same upstate as in New York City (54 and 55 percent respectively) and even higher in the suburbs. Men and women were supportive in about equal majorities. Independent voters were in favor; 52 percent of Catholic voters were, too. And the Democratic margin in favor (61 percent) swamps the Republican opposition (52 percent).

Overall, 37 percent of New York voters were opposed to letting same-sex couples marry.

These welcome poll numbers are a barometer of increasing enlightenment - yet I don't believe that most of those who oppose same-sex marriage are bigots. I do think they labor under an unfortunate misconception about the consequences of legalization, which would not in any way diminish traditional marriages.

In Massachusetts, for instance, where thousands of gay couples have married, life goes on just as it always has. The Red Sox remain an obsession. People still drive like maniacs. Civilization remains unshaken. The only difference is that a small group of citizens - with the same mix of virtues and flaws as the rest of us - who were once excluded from many of society's blessings can now be wed.

The irony is that we'll be admitting gays to the institution of matrimony when it's on its last legs. Marriage is already in a state of more advanced decline in other affluent nations, and while we in America cling to it more fervently, we divorce just as avidly as we wed - undermining the very thing of which we appear to be so fond.

Indeed, whether or not a marriage license is involved, Americans form and dissolve domestic partnerships at a uniquely high rate. "No other comparable nation," the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin has observed, "has such a high level of multiple marital and cohabiting unions."

All this domestic instability isn't great, especially for children. So it would be far wiser to focus on why our household churn rate is so high than on the mysterious ways opening marriage to gay New Yorkers might somehow further undermine an institution already teetering from other causes.

I happen to think marriage is beneficial for society, if only we could uphold our vows. So it follows that giving gays this right just means, at the very worst, more of a good thing. Who knows? They might even be better at it than the rest of us. It's hard to believe they could be any worse.