The New York Times says that instead of same-sex marriage, a better barometer of public opinion on homosexuality is the decade’s avalanche of openly gay elected officials. Currently there are at least 445 gays and lesbians holding office, an increase of almost 200 in the last eight years.
Some political scientists say the rise in openly gay candidates’ winning public office is a better barometer of societal attitudes than are the high-profile fights over same-sex marriage. “Gay marriage ballot measures are not the best measure,” said Patrick J. Egan, a political scientist at New York University who studies issues surrounding gay politicians. “They happen to be about the one issue the public is most uncomfortable with. In a sense, they don’t give us a real good picture of the opinion trend over the last 30 years.”
For instance, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago has been polling people since 1973 about whether homosexual behavior is morally wrong. In 1973, 73 percent of the people polled described it as always wrong and only 11 percent as “not wrong.” By 2006, those saying homosexuality was “always wrong” had dropped to 56 percent, and 32 percent said it was not wrong. One reason for the shift in attitudes, some political scientists contend, is a rising number of gays acknowledging their sexual preference openly in various walks of life, from workers on factory floors to Hollywood stars.