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Religious Tolerance logo

Single public opinion polls on same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions

Comparing SSM to interracial marriage.
History of SSM. Overview.

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Comparing current same-sex with past interracial marriage trends:

It may be worth noting that a rapid change in the U.S. occurred over a little more than four decades -- from the middle to late 20th century -- concerning interracial marriage:

bullet In 1948, about 90% of American adults opposed interracial marriage when the Supreme Court of California legalized it, and California became the first state that allowed loving, committed interracial couples to marry. 1

bullet In 1967, about 72% of adults were still opposed to interracial marriage. This was the year when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage everywhere in the U.S. 2

bulletIn 1991, those adults opposed to interracial marriage became a minority for the first time. 2

bullet The change averaged slightly under 1 percentage point per year.

Why does change happen so slowly? Older folks tend to adopt their positions on social matters while young, and retain them throughout their life. Young people appear to be more accepting -- in this case of racial differences -- and gradually shift the culture's opinion as they mature and enter into positions of authority. They in turn are followed by other young people who are even more accepting. Thus, it takes decades to effect change.

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Brief history of same-sex marriages and civil unions:

Same-sex marriages became available first to residents of the Netherlands. The Dutch lawmakers simply re-wrote their marriage laws so that couples of all sexual orientations can marry. This was followed by similar action in other countries, and in individual provinces, states, and cities around the world: North America, South America, Europe, and Africa.

As of 2011-FEB, about 40% of loving committed same-sex couples in the U.S. can have their relationships formally recognized by their state government, either by marrying, by entering into a civil union or by entering into a domestic partnership. Six political jurisdictions (District of Columbia and five states) permit same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships. However, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages -- even those legally solemnized in the District of Columbia and six or so states that allow SSM.

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A battle has been in progress for years over whether equal rights and equal protection protection against discrimination and violent hate crimes should be extended to same-sex couples. Recently, this has expanded into the area of same-sex marriage. The core conflict is whether:

bullet Marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman as currently required by laws and constitutions in most states and supported by conservative and mainline religious institutions in North America, or 

bullet Whether all adults in committed relationships should be allowed to marry or enter into civil unions, regardless of their gender makeup, as proposed by many liberal religious groups and secular organizations.

The number of people who oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians is far greater than the number of homosexuals. Few politicians are willing to alienate 50% of the population in order to extend equal rights to, say, 5%. Most of the change will probably have to come through the courts. 

As of early 2011:

bullet American views on same-sex marriage appear to be evenly divided pro and con. Opposition is steadily declining; support is gradually improving.

bullet A majority of adult Canadians have supported same-sex marriage since mid-1999. 3 SSM has been legal there in all ten provinces and three territories since mid-2005.

[Author's note: History has shown that once a discriminated-against group organizes and brings their demands for equal rights before the public, that equal rights are eventually granted. This has happened in the past with respect to slavery, racial segregation, women's suffrage, equal opportunities for women, inter-racial marriage, etc. Somehow society has adapted to the changes. It is likely that SSMs will follow this same path, eventually.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still accessible today.

  1. Gail Mathabane, "Gays face same battle interracial couples fought," USA Today, 2004-JAN-25.
  2. John Rogers, "Kung Fu Monkey" blog, 2005-MAR-16, at:
  3. "Most in poll want gay marriages legalized," The Globe and Mail, 1999-JUN-10, Pages A1 A8, A16.

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1996-SEP-25
Latest update: 2011-FEB-27
Author: B.A. Robinson
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