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Americans support same-sex marriage, view immigration positively

By ERIC MOUNT

Contributing columnist

Eric Mount

Americans are more unevenly decided than ever about same-sex marriage and more evenly divided than ever about whether cake shops should have to provide services to same sex couples. These are but two of the striking findings of a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted between June 27 and July 8 and made public on Aug. 2.

One year ago, 53 percent of Americans believed that a business offering wedding-related services should provide services to same-sex couples even if that service violated their religious beliefs. 41 percent believed the business should be allowed to refuse service. In the new poll, only 48 percent thought the business should provide the service, while 46 percent thought the business should be allowed to refuse.

When we look back to the Masterpiece Cake Shop ruling by the Supreme Court, we should remember that Justice Kennedy’s support of the close decision depended on a very specific objection to the general denigration of religion in the plaintiff’s case.  The implication was that the decision would have been different otherwise.  Now Justice Kennedy has retired, and more such cases are sure to come.  What should we expect if the swing vote is that of probable future Justice Kavanaugh?

As for the national climate of opinion, support for same-sex marriage has risen to 64 percent and opposition to allowing same-sex marriage has dropped to 28 percent. Democrats’ support level is 80 percent, independent support stands at 67 percent, and Republican support at 44 percent.

Support from those between the ages of 18 and 29 has reached 81 percent, while the level for those 65 and over is a slight majority of 51 percent. As has often been observed, time is apparently on the side of support for same-sex marriage.

The PRRI poll also included questions about the policies and performance of President Trump. Asked whether Trump policies hurt or helped women, 45 percent said they hurt and 14 percent said they help.  Asked whether his policies have a negative effect on immigrants, 60 percent agreed they do; only 16 percent believed his policies are beneficial to immigrants.

Overall opinion of Trump’s performance broke down this way:  53 percent unfavorable and 41 percent favorable.

Since immigration is a major bone of contention regarding the Trump presidency, with 71 percent of Americans in an earlier poll disapproving of the zero tolerance policy that led to separation of thousands of children from their parents (572 have still not been reunited), it is perhaps relevant to cite another recent poll done by Gallup June 1-13. 

One of the questions was:  “On the whole, do you think immigration is a good or bad thing?” This question was asked about “immigration” and about “legal immigration.” In the first instance, the scores were: good, 75 percent; and bad, 19 percent. With the second wording, the scores were good, 84 percent; and bad, 13 percent. 

The central issue involved in President Trump’s imposition of the zero tolerance policy is whether asylum seekers are given “due process of law” as provided by the U.S. Constitution and not summarily turned away and separated from their children. In his own words, “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no judges or court cases, bring them back from where they came.”

The performance of the Trump administration in pursuit of the zero tolerance policy (which was later reversed due to the hue outcry it triggered) gave a new meaning to “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Separating children from their parents in this fashion, even if they are finally reunited (which in many cases is feared to be unlikely), has severe and lasting effects.

Numerous religious leaders have voiced their opposition. Pope Francis spoke up. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, who had earlier called the election of President Trump an instance of divine intervention, spoke up. Many others did, too.

The most hard-hitting attacks, however, moved beyond mere condemnation of the policy, to Trump’s dehumanizing words about immigrants. He has called immigrants “animals,” and he suggests that they are like insects “infesting” our country. In light of the poll results and public outcry cited here, it is comforting to believe that he does not speak for the large majority of the American people.

One of the most telling criticisms that I have read came from one of my favorite political columnists, E. J. Dionne. His writings always get my attention, but these sentences struck me in particular:

“We cannot shy away from what history teaches. Pronouncing whole categories of people as subhuman numbs a nation’s moral sense and, in extreme but, unfortunately, too many cases, becomes a rationale for collective cruelty.”

He was writing (Washington Post, June 25) in reference to President Trump’s reference to Latino immigrants as animals.  In light of the policies and polling results above, I have nothing to add.

Eric Mount is the Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor Emeritus of Religion at Centre College.