GLAAD linked to a poll that they say shows that it's better for media outlets to use the phrase "marriage equality" instead of "gay marriage." I'm partial to the phrase "same-sex marriage" since not everyone who participates in one is gay (remember bisexuals?) and since marriage equality is a term of art that only has meaning to those in the know.
The survey GLAAD linked doesn't appear, to an objective observer, to make the point they say it makes or the writers of the press release would like to think it means. Putting aside the fact that in order to arrive at their conclusions one has to split a sample of 903 New Jersey citizens so many ways that the polling institute ends up comparing samples of as few as 31 people, the wording of the question leaves the results open to interpretation.
Here's the wording of the question presented to half the sample:
On another topic, some people say gay marriage should be legal in New Jersey. Others
oppose legalizing gay marriage. What is your position?
And here's the other wording:
On another topic, some people support marriage equality in New Jersey. Others oppose
marriage equality. What is your position?
The first wording showed 52% of adults in New Jersey were in favor of same-sex marriage; the second wording got 61%. Hence GLAAD's claim that the latter wording is better.
That requires two assumptions that I haven't seen data to support. The first assumption is that there's a large number of adults that doesn't have an opinion on same-sex marriage. While some complicated issues force people to reflect on them while they're on the phone with a pollster, there's little evidence to suggest people have never thought about queer people and marriage. In fact, that pretty much flies in the face of what we know about the politics of the issue.
Second, the claim assumes that people understand "marriage equality" to mean what the polling institute thinks it means. That's a big assumption.
True, only 3% of respondents said they weren't familiar with the phrase (and 9% gave no response), but what percentage of the people who thought they knew what "marriage equality" means actually knew what "marriage equality" means? And what percentage of people weren't sure what it meant but weren't willing to volunteer the fact that they didn't know? Choices were presented, but 3% of respondents volunteered the fact that they didn't know what the phrase meant. Usually, if one person is willing to ask a question, there's a group behind that person who's wondering the same thing but unwilling to ask.
Because it's not a phrase that most people encounter on a daily basis. Imagine an older, straight relative or acquaintance who doesn't follow politics and doesn't know much about LGBT issues. Would you imagine that person knowing what "marriage equality" means? Imagine someone who only gets their news from rightwing sources that discuss "homosexual 'marriage'"; would that person be familiar with the expression "marriage equality"?
The expression doesn't explain itself. If someone doesn't know the question refers to LGBT people, that person would probably think it means equality between marriages, which it doesn't. Allowing same-sex marriage would still leave in place inequalities between marriages along the lines of class and race that protect some people's kinship bonds more than others.
Others might think that "marriage equality" means equality within marriages; that is, equality between a husband and a wife. That's not what "marriage equality" means as we use it - legalizing same-sex marriage would leave cultural and institutional sexism in place.
This shows up in the groups that were more or less influenced by the wording of the question. People over 65 were the most influenced by question wording, jumping over 20 points in support when presented with the phrase "marriage equality." Could it be because they are less likely to have heard "marriage equality" in an gay activism context while more likely to have a good understanding of sexism within families and marriages?
Young people and those with at least some college education were the least swayed by wording. Could that be because they're more likely to follow the politics of the issue?
Why is this important? It's a little poll and people are going to go on talking about the issues as they have been.
Part of it's because I'm a nerd and I believe that knowing where we stand is important. Same-sex marriage has a slight majority in New Jersey, not an over 20-point margin.
But also titles like "Language Matters," which both GLAAD and the polling institute opted for, strike me as that sort of consultant-class group-think that places more importance on messaging and strategizing than substance and actual conversations with people.
Yes, language is important, but it's not that important.
We're not so much smarter than the rubes out there that if we just start using another phrase they'll suddenly say to themselves, "Well, I guess the idea of two men kissing isn't as gross as I thought it was!" Someone who thinks that it's wrong for two women to raise children together isn't going to change their opinion upon hearing that phrase, and the person who thinks that "marriage just is one man and one woman" isn't going to change their mind upon hearing "marriage equality" uttered.
I've posted about this before when it came to "gays and lesbians in the military" vs. "homosexuals in the military": there are no short-cuts. Being clever isn't going to win this fight.