'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' vs. Gay Marriage

They're the two dominant gay-rights issues today, but how do marriage and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compare to each other, politically?

At The Corner, Maggie Gallagher tries to relate DADT's nascent repeal to the fight over marriage, perceiving a trend in American culture that backgrounds both debates:

... the inability of those who opposed DADT repeal to kill this bill in the lame duck, even in light of the strong opposition to repeal from troops in the field, is an example of the growing mismatch in culture power -- the power to name reality, the power to determine which stories get told and whose feelings count.

For Gallagher, the DADT debate revealed a cultural mainstreaming of gay rights, which ultimately led to the political consensus around repealing the military's policy.

Gay rights, and homosexuality in general, do seem far more supported/accepted now than they were five or ten years ago, but few actual metrics that come to mind. Fictional gay couples now star in primetime network sitcoms, where "Will and Grace" once seemed kind of edgy. Our last Republican president, Dick Cheney, has a lesbian daughter and supports gay rights. The former chairman of the Republican National Committee is gay.

But there's a mismatch in public opinion on the issues of DADT and marriage, regardless of whether cultural attitudes have changed. The public has long supported a repeal of DADT, while it has opposed gay "marriage."

See the following chart from Gallup on DADT, from May 2010:

Gallup DADT.gif

And on gay marriage, from the same month:

Gallup marriage.gif
The trends are the same. Since 1996, more and more people have supported gay marriage, while more and more have opposed DADT since 2005.

But changing DADT remains far more popular (67 percent per Gallup, as of December 9) than recognizing gay marriage (43 percent for vs. 47 percent against pew Pew, as of September 9).

At issue, it seems, is the word "marriage." When Gallup asks if gay marriages should be recognized by law with the same rights as "traditional" marriages, it gets negative responses. But when Pew asked in 2009 whether respondents supported "civil unions" that entailed the same legal rights as straight marriages, it found 57 percent support. "Marriage," Pew found, was supported only by 39 percent. Coincidentally, President Obama supports full rights but opposes the nomenclature, saying repeatedly during his campaign that he sees marriage as something that exists only "between a man and a woman."

Policy changes, meanwhile, have followed parallel tracks, as activists have pressed the administration to overturn Clinton-era policies and found that slower means of change, outside the Executive branch, were their only options.

With pressure on the Obama administration to unilaterally repeal DADT early in Obama's tenure, the administration had to tell gay-rights supporters that only Congress could do it; a laborious legislative process ensued. And as gay-rights activists pressed Obama to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, the issue could ultimately be solved by the prominent court case against California's Proposition 8.

If that case makes it to the Supreme Court, gay-rights supporters could get their way on both issues within the span of a year.