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The Evolution of Support for Marriage Equality

A Majority of Americans Now Support Marriage Equality

SOURCE: AP/Steven Senne

Marriage equality supporters hold placards and chant slogans during a rally in front of the Statehouse, in Providence, Rhode Island.

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Six national polls over the past year have demonstrated that a majority of Americans now support full marriage equality for same-sex couples. This is a marked reversal from years prior, which showed clear majorities opposing marriage equality.

Gallup’s most recent poll finds that 53 percent of Americans support marriage equality, while 45 percent remain opposed. When Gallup surveyed the public about marriage equality last year, it found the exact opposite results. Forty-four percent of Americans supported marriage equality in 2010, while 53 were opposed. When Gallup first polled on this issue in 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported full marital rights for same-sex couples.

The other five polls reveal remarkably similar results. A Public Religion Research Institute poll shows 51 percent supporting marriage equality; an ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 53 percent supporting marriage equality; an AP/Roper poll shows 52 percent support marriage equality; and two CNN/Opinion Research polls show that 51 percent and 52 percent support marriage equality.

recent polls on marriage equality

Each of these polls found consistent patterns of support among various demographic groups, including political party. These polls, for example, found strong and increasing support among Democrats and political moderates, and found obstinate opposition among Republicans and conservatives.

Sixty-nine percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents support marriage equality, according to the Gallup poll. Only 28 percent of Republicans support marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Compared to the year prior, this represents a 13 percent increase in support among Democrats, and a 10 percent increase in support among independents. These surveys reveal similar increases in support among men, people in their 30s and 40s, and Catholics. Republican support neither increased nor decreased from last year.

Same-sex marriage continues to largely remain a generational issue, with younger adults consistently demonstrating steady and strong support, and older adults demonstrating substantially less support for marriage equality. In a separate poll released earlier this year, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 65 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 think that same-sex marriage should be legal, with 51 percent indicating their support for marriage equality was “strong.” By contrast, only 30 percent of adults over the age of 65 think same-sex marriage should be legal. Instead, 66 percent believe it should be illegal, with 57 percent indicating their opposition to same-sex marriage was strong.

support for marriage equalityThis has important implications for the parameters that pollsters set when surveying the public. The most recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, for example, failed to survey adults between 18 and 35, who time and again show their overwhelming support for marriage equality. So while that poll found that 51 percent of the public supports recognizing same-sex marriages, that is very likely a conservative estimate.

In addition to support for marriage equality, polls also demonstrate even stronger support for gay and transgender equality elsewhere. By large margins, Americans support equality in the military, in the workplace, and in our communities. This support for equality in all spheres of life reflects the growing societal acceptance of gay and transgender individuals.

In sum, somewhere between 51 percent and 53 percent of Americans support full marriage equality for same-sex couples. In a notable comparison, public support for interracial marriage equality was far less advanced compared to the public’s current support for same-sex marriage equality when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Loving v. Virginia (1967). In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional, affirming marriage as a fundamental constitutional right for all. But at the time of that ruling, a shocking 73 percent of Americans disapproved of marriage between blacks and whites. Meanwhile, gays and lesbians today continue to lack full marital rights under the law, despite the fact that significant majorities have consistently voiced their support for equality.

The state of marriage equality

Same-sex couples can currently marry in the District of Columbia (2009), and five states: New Hampshire (2010), Vermont (2009), Iowa (2009), Connecticut (2008), and Massachusetts (2004). Twelve other states offer or are soon to offer some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, including domestic partnerships and civil unions. And every year, this list continues to grow as more and more states begin to recognize same-sex relationships.

Despite this recognition, however, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, or any other same-sex relationship. So while some same-sex couples may access the state benefits of marriage, same-sex couples currently lack the 1,138 rights that the federal government affords to opposite sex couples. These include crucial tax and financial benefits, including the ability to file taxes jointly or receive equitable social security payments.

Members in both houses of Congress have introduced legislation that would repeal DOMA. Existing and potential supporters of this legislation would be wise to remember that in addition to fairness and justice being on their side, so too are the American people.

For his part, President Barack Obama has by and large been the fierce advocate he claimed he was in 2008. He has championed a host of issues advancing gay and transgender equality, including advocating for and then signing into law inclusive hate crimes legislation; repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; and most recently, refusing to defend DOMA, which his administration determined to be unconstitutional.

President Obama has yet to fully endorse marriage equality for gays and lesbians. The president himself has stated that his position on same-sex marriage continues to “evolve,” leaving open the possibility to come out in full support for marital rights for same-sex couples. In the meantime, public opinion is likewise evolving, and it is evolving swiftly and steadily towards full support for marriage equality.

Crosby Burns is the Special Assistant for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.

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