In 2005, 76% of Texas voters amended their state constitution to define marriage as a special right for heterosexuals, and to make the creation or recognition of any parallel relationship recognition system (and perhaps even heterosexual marriage) unconstitutional:
Art. 1 Sec. 32. MARRIAGE. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
Yet this week, a mere 5 years later, a new UT-Austin/Texas Tribune Poll shows that 63% of Texas voters support marriage equality or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
Q41. What is you opinion on gay marriage or civil unions?
28% Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry. 35% Gays and lesbians should have the right to civil unions but not to marry. 30% Gays and lesbians should not have the right to civil unions or marriage. 7% Don’t know.
The Dallas Voice reports that Texans polled almost identically on the same question last year (emphasis mine):
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT, which conducted the poll, said he was surprised last year when a previous TPP poll and a Texas Lyceum poll showed that 61 percent and 57 percent of Texans, respectively, support relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
“I’ve kind of stopped being surprised,” Henson said this week. “These are remarkably stable numbers.”
Henson noted that results from the three polls are essentially within one another’s margin of error.
“The more you get that result, the more you have to say that my baseline assumption – that this is a complete non-starter in Texas – seems wrong,” Henson said, referring to relationship recognition. “This seems to be rapidly becoming not a question of what’s in public opinion. What’s in public opinion is becoming kind of a settled issue. Now the question is one of leadership and politics.”
Henson said the poll results suggest that a small minority of voters who are adamantly opposed to relationship recognition are dictating public policy on the issue.
So, has the voting population changed dramatically since the discriminatory amendment was passed in 2005, or is there some other explanation for the huge disparity between the 2005 vote result and the recent poll numbers? Chuck Smith, deputy director at Equality Texas, attributes it to both dismal voter turnout in 2005 and to changing attitudes:
But turnout in the election was just 17 percent, and Smith said he believes attitudes have changed in the last five years.
“There’s history and evidence from other places that the sky doesn’t fall and there’s not a negative impact on anybody else’s relationship,” Smith said.
So it would seem that while marriage equality is still off the table in Texas, there is now perhaps room for compromise in the form of civil unions. It would take a two-thirds majority in the Texas legislature to put yet another constitutional amendment on the ballot that would effect a repeal part (b) of the 2005 amendment. That may seem like a tall order, but for legislators who understand the terrible injustice in denying relationship recognition to their gay and lesbian constituents, the consistency of the polls over the last two years should provide them ample cover as they work to right a terrible wrong.
“It’s positive steps toward letting elected officials know that they’re really not going out on such a long limb to support relationship recognition measures,” Smith said. “Over time, that is indeed going to give policymakers the cover, or the ability to believe that they’re not going to get thrown out of office if they do that.”
“What the poll is saying, it’s acknowledging the existence of relationships between gay and lesbian people,” Smith said. “The majority of people don’t believe in ignoring the existence of those.”