What? Court decisions don’t magically transform public opinion?

Another webcomic:

I’m disappointed that the US population didn’t automatically accept interracial marriage in 1967 — I’m particularly shocked that it wasn’t until 1995 that more than half the population thought it was OK. I also find it interesting that our current conservative Supreme Court is lagging so far behind public opinion on same sex marriage this time around, and that a Scalia-less Supreme Court in the 1960s was able to do the right thing in spite of public opinion.

But I also have to point out that this is something I’ve been saying all along with regards to creationism — that public opinion on that issue has been largely static since at least the 1960s, and that we’ve relied largely on the bulwark of court decisions to keep religious nonsense out of the schools (and failing to some degree — an awful lot of teachers shovel that stuff at their students in spite of the laws).

What we need is something that budges the dashed line of approval for science education upwards. Laws are necessary but not sufficient.


  1. vaiyt says

    As MLK said, laws are not meant to change opinion, but to regulate behavior. You can’t turn someone away from creationism with a court decision, but you can make people stop teaching nonsense as if it was science.

  2. Saad says

    Wilcox County High School’s first racially integrated prom was in March 2014.

    For decades, Wilcox County High School hadn’t hosted a prom for its 400 students. Instead, parents and their children organized private, off-site, racially segregated parties known to most as “white prom” and “black prom.”

    So proud to live in this state…

  3. gussnarp says

    Randall Munroe has done it again. There’s so much packed into that little chart. The shameful history of our racism (and I might add, current state), the shameful state of our marriage laws, and the hopeful speed of the change in public opinion on marriage equality.

  4. qwints says

    I wonder if he’s accurately comparing the surveys. The Gallup question for interracial marriage is “do you approve or disapprove of marriage between blacks and whites.” The Gallup question for same sex marriage is “do you think marriages between same-sex couple should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” (previously it was “marriages between homosexuals.”

    While the latter might correlate very well with ‘approval or disapproval’, it may not account for people who don’t approve but think it should be recognized by law.

  5. twas brillig (stevem) says

    {tangent alert}
    I was reading some of the “opinions” of far-right conservapoids about the non-action of the SCOTUS, concerning same sex marriage rights. I keep wanting to ask them, “HOW is same sex marriage disrupting opposite sex marriage? What harm to male/female marriage is the result of same sex marriage? _Why_do_you_care_ so much that two men or two women marry each other? Oh, m/f marriage is such a special state of being that it must remain exclusive to remain special?? ugh, no! 2 _persons_ become one pair, for life. The choice to share with another is special, in and of itself. The sexes of the two is secondary.”

    oh crud… getting longwinded again, apologies, that’s why I put that “tangent warning” at the top…

  6. A Hermit says

    And of course there is similar lag in cultural attitudes toward women’s rights; the idea that feminism is no longer needed because women can vote now is rooted in this silly idea that the establishment of legal rights = the end of inequality.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    What we need is something that budges the dashed line of approval for science education upwards. Laws are necessary but not sufficient.

    Do science with your kids, and their friends! Don’t leave it all on the backs of their Science teachers.
    I saw a cute video of a group of kids making “bombs” with ziplock sandwich bags, baking soda, and vinegar. The bags would swell up and pop and the kids were screaming with delight.
    Science is everywhere if you keep your mind open to it. If you take a car trip to the mountains, ask the kids to look at the trees at different elevations and then ask them to guess why they are different. Play with a garden hose and get them to think about water pressure changes – this will be a big help when they are trying to understand electricity.

  8. michaelraymer says

    It probably took until 1995 for enough of the old racist assholes to die off to get majority support. In the late 1990s I was in high school, and I recall my grandfather (who was born in 1928) picking me up from school one day. He noted an interracial couple holding hands, and said the black teenager should be castrated for that “crime.” And this was in a blue state in the midwest, not the deep south. There is still no shortage of racists out there, but time did its work on the older ones, at least.

  9. jrfdeux, mode d'emploi says

    Canada had and has a different sort of racism problem from the US, but it’s still a racism problem. The bit about interracial marriages really stung. I’m the offspring of such a marriage, and when I was a kid I was mercilessly bullied for being a “half-breed.” Oddly, I was only accepted by the Asian kids. They didn’t seem to care about my heritage. They couldn’t protect me though.

    “Hybrid vigour” doesn’t much help with social pressures it seems.

  10. applebeverage says

    So basically what this is saying, if I’m reading it correctly, is that there was a time when the government was more progressive than its constituents, but now is less progressive despite supposedly representing a more progressive nation. Huh.

  11. astro says

    while munroe noted loving v. virginia in his graph (the 1967 supreme court decision), he left out a big one in 1996 – romer v. evans, which established that discriminating against gays is impermissible. the chart shows a slight dip in support for marriage after 1996 due to the backlash, but the decision solidified the support for gay rights in general and laid the foundation for the modern movement to legalize marriage.

    on a personal note, i’m in an interracial marriage, and know first-hand how much bigotry and opposition there is in “this day and age.”

  12. astro says

    applebeverage, some other moments the govt was more progressive were:

    jul 4, 1776
    sep 17, 1789
    nov 19, 1863
    may 17, 1954