Exit poll data revealed a massive and decisive gender gap in voting on the marriage equality ballot measures that just might put to rest once and for all some old gender adages. Women have all too often been cast as the more conservative sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. Women, on the average, want change more than men and are sick and tired of discrimination that has hurt them.

Women’s votes, according to state exit polls, determined the historic outcome of the 2012 marriage equality ballot measures. Same-sex marriage was approved for the first time by general election votes in three states: Maine, Maryland and Washington state. In Minnesota, voters struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment “to recognize marriage only between one man and one woman.”

Decisive and large gender gaps emerged in exits polls in all four states with women voting in solid majorities in favor of marriage equality and men opposing, albeit with weaker majorities. If only men had voted, marriage equality would have been defeated in all four states.

The breakdown of the gender gap in each state was:

  • Maine: 61 percent of women voted for same-sex marriage and only 47 percent of men did, for a whopping 14 percent gender gap.
  • Washington: 57 percent of women voted for same-sex marriage and only 49 percent of men did, creating an 8 percent gender gap.
  • Maryland: 55 percent of women voted for same-sex marriage and only 48 percent of men did so, for a 7 percent gender gap.
  • Minnesota: 56 percent of women and only 46 percent of men voted no on the state constitutional amendment to only recognize marriages between one man and one woman, making a 10 percent gender gap.

These trends in voting and attitudes on issues have been apparent since the 1970s and are increasingly becoming more visible, larger, and decisively impactful. Gender gaps exist on a whole host of issues, including equality, abortion, family planning, social security, Medicaid, Medicare and environmental issues. Women, on average, typically favor programs to further equality, provide health care and protect the environment more than men.

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Eleanor Smeal

As Co-Founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Eleanor Smeal has led efforts for the economic, political, and social equality and empowerment of women worldwide for over three decades.