Saturday, March 25, 2006

Oddly Enough, Optimism

I'm optimisitic. I'm tending to think that we're waking up from a nightmare, not diving deeper into one. There's still lots to worry about, but I put my trust in the good sense of the people of my country.

A survey published this past week supports this conception. The Pew Research Center asked people across America about gay rights and other things. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Opposition to same-sex marriage dropped sharply across the country during the past two years, though just over half of Americans still oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday.

The poll also showed increased support for allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, and substantial backing for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

The survey was released one day after a poll of California residents indicated increasing support for gay rights in the state, including for same-sex marriages. The nonpartisan Field Poll found that support for same-sex marriage in the state had risen from 38 percent in 1997 to 43 percent today. Poll finds U.S. warming to gay marriage: Opposition off 12% since '04 -- support for adoption, military role is up nationally

You know that there are organizations who work with and for the gay community, monitoring news sources and helping journalists reduce the bias in their stories. Some people will tell you this is part of the "gay agenda," the gay people's plan to take over the world, but ... you've gotta start with some certain assumptions to reach that conclusion. It doesn't seem hard to see it as some people working to see that they and their peers are treated with respect, and I don't see any reason to blame them for that.

At any rate, something is happening. Straight people are realizing that The Gay isn't going to go away, and that gay people are, it turns out, just people, when you get down to it. This seems to continue a benevolent trend that has led to the inclusion in our society of various racial and ethnic groups, the disabled, people with diseases that may have rendered them pariahs in other places and times, people of varying religions, equal rights for women ... in the communities of America, the circle of inclusion is constantly widening, no matter how loudly the nuts holler about it.

Americans, as a people, tend to listen to your case and give you the benefit of the doubt. But they're busy, and if it doesn't affect them directly they're likely not to pay attention, and to respond to whatever images appear on the news. As the circle expands, you see more and more people who are not bizarre and strange, who are pretty much like yourself, and then more people like them in your community can show their faces, and you see they're not bizarre and strange, or dangerous, and so it goes.

That doesn't mean you get elected by being nice, and so we have a public discussion that differs from the private one. You have people from the Family Blah Blah groups going around giving speeches about how gay people are germ-ridden, child-molesting, poop-eating sodomites, and you have a certain attendance at those speeches. But when the people who attend those speeches go back out into the real world, they deal with actual people, not the malignant stereotype but a real person. As we've seen in our county, you get a small number of people who will cling to the ugliness, but most people give you the benefit of the doubt.

This Pew survey, which you can read about HERE, has other interesting findings that all go together. They analyze the changes over time and show that attitudes toward gays, in general, are shifting in the benevolent direction, including attitudes about gays in the military and gay adoption.

You know that South Dakota just passed the most draconian abortion law. First of all, let me say, Great Swarmy predicts that governor and legislature will be thrown out of there as soon as the people can get an election scheduled. Pew writes:
On another social issue, the survey also finds that by a 58%-to-34% margin most Americans would oppose a national version of South Dakota's new law banning abortion in all cases unless the mother's life is endangered. However, supporters of such a law place a much higher priority on the issue, and are more politically active than opponents.

Just like here -- most people in Montgomery County were quite satisfied with the sex-ed curriculum, but a tiny minority of squeaky wheels thought it was real important, or as Pew would put it, "place a much higher priority on the issue."

The gap in intensity of feelings about the abortion issue is greatest among younger Americans. Young people who take a generally pro-life position are the most likely to say it is a critical issue for the country, and are twice as likely as young people who favor abortion access to have taken action over the past year to advocate their position.

Some people reduce the abortion issue to a dichotomy between those who take pleasure in murdering babies, and those who love children, including unborn ones. It is easy to understand why those people would feel more strongly about the issue than people who consider abortion an unfortunate but sometimes necessary procedure which presents a stressful and difficult decision to families and especially women.

Again, it seems to me that there is a public discussion, about the morality of abortion, which immediately becomes irrelevant when it's your own daughter who needs one. The Family Blah Blah groups want to paint the picture a certain color, but real people, with lives, know how difficult the decision really is, and oppose the ugly stereotype, even now, after five years of fundamentalist federal rule.

For Montgomery County, these trends reflect the disintegration of the now-incapacitated Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. In 2004 they thought they had a mandate, they thought America was finally going to tip over and adopt their kind of self-righteous bigotry, and it hasn't happened. The American people don't want to go there, and in fact they're moving the other way.


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