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Gay Marriage Is Fading as ‘Values’ Focal Point

It’s Mike Huckabee’s win in the presidential straw poll at this past week’s Value Voters’ summit that’s drawing the headlines. But this is every bit as interesting:

Abortion ranked first among issues of concern to straw-poll voters, getting 41 percent of the vote, with protection of religious liberty second with 18 percent.

Opposition to same-sex marriage was third at 7 percent.

Emphasis is mine. These are not the tea-partiers, who have a libertarian bent. This is a forum, rather, sponsored by the Family Research Council, an organization which continues to insist that homosexuality is curable and to link it to pedophilia. But the actual attendees at the forum — religious conservative activists from around the country — just don’t seem to be all that riled up about the prospect of two men getting married.

This is not to suggest that these voters have become pro-gay marriage. If any of them was spotted in leather chaps at Remington’s after the event — it was not, I assure you, to show solidarity for their gay brothers and sisters. But the last time this poll was conducted, in October 2007, gay marriage was the top choice of 20 percent of the attendees. That’s quite a decline, particularly given that gay marriage has been more in the news than abortion for the past couple of years.

Public opinion is moving toward acceptance of gay marriage. But it is doing so very slowly, at a rate of perhaps a point or two per year, and has at least a few years to go before it is the majority opinion. In the near term, the more relevant dimension may be ‘passion’, or depth of feeling. It used to be that the conservatives were ahead on passion — they were strongly opposed to gay marriage, whereas liberals were, at best, lukewarmly in favor of it. Increasingly, that dynamic seems to be reversing.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.