Here's an argument you'll often hear from opponents of same-sex marriage: it's a sideshow, a distraction from the real work of fixing Rhode Island's economy, a concern of a relatively small group of gays, lesbians, and their progressive allies.
But a new Brown University poll provides a challenge to that line of argument.
The survey, conducted February 21-23, shows strong support for gay nuptials, with 60 percent in favor and 26 percent opposed. Nothing new there. Other recent polls (here and here) have shown similar results. But the Brown survey also found that, among supporters, 62 percent "strongly favor" gay marriage.
I think it's reasonable to assume that this cohort - nearly four in 10 Rhode Islanders - believe passage of a same-sex nuptials bill should be a priority (if not the priority) for the General Assembly. If you add in the 60 percent of opponents who "strongly oppose" gay marriage, you've got more than half of Rhode Island charged up about the issue. This is not, as some would suggest, a marginal concern.
Of course, that's not to say that Rhode Islanders believe same-sex marriage should be the state government's primary concern. Not at all. Jobs and the economy are surely at the top of the list. But it's not as if the public has great faith in the state's political leadership to right the ship.
When the Brown pollsters asked voters how much confidence they have in officials "to make the right decisions for the state's future," just 16.7 percent said they had a "great amount" or "good amount" of confidence. Not a direct question about Smith Hill's fiscal stewardship, of course. But in the wake of the 38 Studios fiasco, it's hard to imagine such a direct question yielding a better result.