The dispute roiling one of the most prominent families in the Republican Party highlights a central factor in the growing acceptance of legal same-sex marriage: knowing someone who’s gay.
Most public polling has shown a dramatic rise in recent years in support for legal recognition of same-sex marriages, and a Pew Research Center survey conducted in May found a connection between support for legal marriage and a respondent’s ties to someone who is gay.
But just knowing a gay person doesn’t guarantee support for legal marriage, particularly among Republicans, and the public dispute among members of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s family illustrates the divide.
Mary Cheney is married to a woman. She’s also the ex-vice president’s daughter and sister to Liz Cheney, who is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from Wyoming. Mary’s father has said he supports legal gay marriage in states where it is recognized. Since mounting her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, Liz Cheney has said she opposes gay marriage.
Mary’s father is among the 38 percent of Republicans who say they have a close friend or family member who is gay and who back their legal right to marry. Her sister is in the 54 percent of Republicans who oppose legal same-sex marriage though they have a gay close friend or family member.
According to the Pew Center poll, those who reported having a close friend or family member who is gay were more apt to favor legal same-sex marriages, but the effect was smaller among Republicans.
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans told Pew’s pollsters they know someone who’s gay, and about half reported a close family member or close friend who is gay. There’s little variation by party in having a gay person in one’s inner circle. Among Republicans, 46 percent said one of their closest friends or a family member is gay; 51 percent of Democrats said the same.
That connection broadly impacts support for legal gay marriages. Among all those polled, there’s a 20 percentage-point gap in support for legal gay marriage between those who have a close friend or family member who is gay (61 percent back legal same-sex marriage) and those who do not (41 percent back legal marriage).
Among Republicans, just 25 percent who do not have a close relationship with someone who is gay support the legal right for gays to marry, compared with the 38 percent with a close connection to someone gay supporting that right.
Across partisan divisions and social connections, however, one finding in the poll may be heartening to Mary Cheney. Nearly three-quarters of adults, including 73 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents, told Pew’s pollsters that legal recognition of gay marriage was inevitable.