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Same sex shift

PUBLIC opinion in the West has shifted in favour of same sex marriage faster than on any major issue of recent memory. 

Yes supporters in Ireland referendum.(Source: Peter Morrison/TASR)

A poll by The Wall Street Journal in March found that 59 percent of Americans support same sex marriage. In much of western Europe the numbers are even more lopsided: 85 percent of Dutch people, 74 percent in Germany and 71 percent in both Belgium and Spain, according to the Pew Research Center. In the first case of a public referendum legally clearing the way to marriage for same sex couples, some 62 percent of Irish voters approved of a constitutional amendment on May 22.

Those numbers contrast sharply with results in central and eastern Europe. Just 21 percent of Poles back same sex marriage and 30 percent of Hungarians. Though internationally comparable statistics on Slovak attitudes are hard to come by, there is reason to believe that support here is even lower. As part of the European Social Survey conducted in 2010, just 42 percent of Slovaks agreed that “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their lives as they wish.” This trailed Poland (44 percent) and Hungary (45 percent) and was much lower than the Czech Republic’s 64 percent (in Russia it was 25 percent).

Going beyond the numbers it is clear that there is a direct correlation between how open homosexuals can be about their sexuality and public support for same sex marriage in a given society. When homosexuals cease to be mythical figures and suddenly turn out to be brothers, sisters and neighbours – which they have been all along – the desire to see those people find happiness almost always trumps tradition. In societies where gays and lesbians can be who they are without threat of violence, their right to marry looks set to follow.

While highly organised religious groups – in Slovakia, as in Ireland, this largely means the Catholic Church – do still hold power and frequently oppose such same sex unions, their influence does not overcome personal experience. In Ireland, for example, while it is still nearly impossible to get an abortion, same sex couples are set to get married and even some church leaders are offering a softer tone. When pressed for a position on LGBTI rights, Pope Francis once famously responded: “Who am I to judge?”

But that does not stop others from using God as an alibi for adjudicating earthly morality. Earlier this year Slovak voters – by staying away from the voting booths – rendered void a set of proposed constitutional amendments that would have further curbed the rights of the LGBTI community. Though poll numbers may show Slovaks are still unwilling to let gay and lesbian couples live their lives openly, the referendum results also show they have no desire to actively assault rights further.

This is less than ideal, but could be worse and in Europe the trend is largely one way. In fact, the Slovak referendum is a reflection of the desperation that religious conservatives feel. As was noted at the time, the Slovak constitution already bans same sex marriage. The push for a popular vote reaffirming it is akin to flailing about amid a struggle to swim against the current of progress. Same sex marriage rights everywhere are inevitable. In most European Union member states, it will be sooner rather than later.

In recent days a top cardinal called the Irish referendum a “defeat for humanity”, but the Catholic Church also once found the idea that the earth moved around the sun heretical.

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