Rick Santorum’s moment in the sun is proving to be quality entertainment, as the sweater-vested culture warrior takes his wackiness on tour across New Hampshire and finds himself outmatched by college students. Last night, Santorum was on the losing end of an argument about gay marriage, which he compared, as he often does, to polygamy. Aside from all the obvious reasons, is there an important (and often overlooked) way in which polygamy and gay marriage differ?
Yes: One is much more popular than the other. Polling shows that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. In May 2011, Gallup reported that 53 percent of Americans were in favor—up from 44 percent in 2010 and just 27 percent in 1996. Polygamy, on the other hand, is held by 86 percent of Americans to be “morally wrong.” Interestingly, until 2010 Gallup defined polygamy in its question as “when one husband has more than one wife at the same time,” and the percentage of respondents calling it “morally acceptable” never exceeded 8 percent. In 2011, however, they changed the question to define polygamy as “when a married person has more than one spouse at the same time,” and the “morally acceptable” number jumped to 11 percent. Not exactly a groundswell, but if Santorum is concerned, he might want to keep an eye on that poll. Of course, maybe this is all part of a clever election strategy: A 2007 poll showed that Americans’ most common “top-of-mind impression” of Mormonism was polygamy, so Santorum’s comparison may have been a not-too-subtle dog whistle about Mitt Romney.