Can you rebrand gay marriage?

That’s what center-left group Third Way is setting out to do. The findings from their research look simple - the more you believe gay Americans want to marry for love or commitment, the more comfortable you are with them getting married at all.

Indeed, the gap between Americans who believe “couples like you” get married for love and commitment and gay couples who marry for the same reason is 20 percentage points.

Third Way’s goal is advocacy - their “Commitment Campaign”  aims to define gay marriage much in the same ways Americans view heterosexual marriage and, as such, make Americans more amenable to, say, the repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, among other things.

Decoder wonders - why such a huge gap between what America thinks of marriage for homosexual and heterosexual Americans?

Interestingly, we may have some insight from religion. In their wide-ranging book “American Grace”, Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame posit that even though America is one of the world’s most religious countries in the world, we have astonishing levels of interfaith tolerance. 

This may seem a bridge too far given serious problems with American political discourse (the chapter of the last GOP debate where everyone except Ron Paul tried to get to the front of the “at airports, screen Muslims and only Muslims!” line fastest, for example).

But the Economist’s Lexington blog explains the My Aunt Susan principle:

The unifying impact of religion would not be so puzzling in a country where people were pious but where there was only one dominant religion—Catholic Poland, say. Americans, by contrast, hold intense religious beliefs but belong to many different faiths and denominations. That should in theory produce an explosive combination. So why doesn’t it?

There are the protections of the constitution, of course. But the authors put much of it down to Aunt Susan. Such is America’s churning diversity that most Americans are intimately acquainted with people of other faiths. Aunt Susan may be a Methodist, and you a Jew, but you know that Aunt Susan deserves a place in heaven anyway. In fact, Susan does not have to be your aunt, because in addition to the Aunt Susan principle the authors have invented the My Friend Al principle. In this case you befriend Al because, say, of a shared interest in beekeeping, and later learn that he is an evangelical Christian. Having an evangelical Christian in your circle of friends makes you warmer than you were before to evangelical Christians. Not only that, befriending someone from another faith makes you warmer to other religions in general.

Advocacy can certainly help, but maybe America doesn’t have enough (gay) Aunt Susans.

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