Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank (D) has a new book out chronicling his career on Capitol Hill. So, as is the way of things when you have a new book, he sat down for an interview with Public Radio International's Warren Olney. In short order, the topic of Frank's sexual orientation came up; he was the first member of Congress to be open about his homosexuality.
Which led to an interesting point. "I started out saying, 'Well, I'm a homosexual, but that is such an unpopular thing I will never succeed in a place where you need to be popular, politics,'" Frank said. But over the course of his time in Congress, from 1981 to 2013, things changed. "Over time the balance shifted," Frank said. "Prejudice declined but support for government declined also. By the time I retired, there was still a disparity between the social acceptability of being gay and that of being a politician, but the order had reversed."
The kicker: "When people polled about my activities, my having married a man while I was a member of Congress was much better received than having chaired the committee that wrote the financial reform bill."
And he's right. Gallup has polling going back to the 1980s on two issues: approval rating of Congress and support for legalizing homosexual relationships. In the 1990s, it added questions on the legality of gay marriage. And while the numbers are spotty prior to 1994, there's been a clear divergence over the last decade or so. People feel much less supportive of Congress than of the ability of gay men to marry.
It's a bit unfair to compare "support for Congress" to "should gay relationships be legal." One assumes that nearly 100 percent of Americans would say that being in Congress should be legal, though we can't swear to that. And we'll note that, in its 2014 poll, Gallup found that a stunning 30 percent of Americans think gay relationships should not be legal.