Longitudinal U.S. public opinion polls
on same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions
1. Comparing SSMs and inter-racial marriages.
2. Gallup Organization & Pew Research surveys on SSM
See a different essay for Washington Post/ABC and Fox News poll data
A bit of perspective: comparing SSM with inter-racial
Consider the changes in attitude towards interracial marriage over the
past six decades in the U.S. It may be worth noting that a fairly rapid change in the
U.S. occurred over a little more than four decades:
||In 1948, about 90% of American adults opposed
interracial marriage when the Supreme Court of California legalized it. California became the first state that allowed loving,
committed interracial couples to marry -- provided that they were of opposite sexes of course. 1
||In 1967, about 72% of the public remained opposed to interracial marriage. This was the year when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage throughout the
U.S. in its famous and ironically named case Loving v. Virginia. To add to the irony, the state of Virginia adopted the state slogan: "Virginia is for lovers" one year later.
||In 1991, those adults opposed to interracial
marriage became a minority for the first time. 2
The change averaged slightly less than 1 percentage point per year. It doesn't seem like much, but the change did
accumulate with each successive year. As each new generation matures, it tends to be less
racist than the previous generation. Meanwhile, older adults tend to retain
their beliefs about race from ther earlier years of their life. This establishes a maximum
rate at which change is possible.
The same response appears to be occurring with same-sex marriage and homophobia:
In late 2008, Jay McDonough published a fascinating graph on his "swimming
freestyle" weblog titled: "Gay marriage will be legal by 2012." The graph is too
tiny to read clearly. It shows the decline in opposition to SSM (in red), the
rise in support for SSM (in blue) and the stagnation of the the number of "don't
knows, from 1986 to 2006. The vertical axis runs from 0 to 100%. The horizontal line half-way up
the graph is the 50% support level. The
trend appears obvious. 3
Of course, same-sex marriage did not become legal in 2012. Earlier trends did continue with a noticable surge in support for SSM from 2010 to 2012. A majority of American favored SSM by that year. However, it takes more than a slim majority to implement change. Fear-based anti-SSM ads can significantly alter public support. It really takes about a 10 percentage point margin to pass a referendum on SSM.
Gallup Organization's polls on same-sex marriage
1997 to 2000:
When pollsters substitute the word "marriage" for "civil unions,"
results shift towards increased opposition. When the Gallup Organization asked the question: "Do
you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by
the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?" the
following data were obtained: 4
Pew Forum: Detailed data on same-sex marriage from 1996 to 2003:
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also polls the American
public on this matter. Survey results over the period 1996 to 2003 show a major shift away from
prohibition of same-sex marriage:
|| No opinion
Comparing those who favor SSM with those who are opposed:
Major opposition comes from Evangelical Christians (83% either oppose or
strongly oppose in 2003) and African-Americans (64%). Nearly every
segment of society has shifted towards favoring allowing gays and lesbians to
marry. However, neither Evangelical Christians nor African-Americans have significantly
changed their beliefs between 1996 and 2003. The percentage of adults who oppose
or strongly oppose same-sex marriage has reduced by:
||20% among mainline Christians
||19% among Roman Catholics
||16% among Secularists
||14% among Whites
||12% among all adults
||10% among Hispanics
||1% among Evangelical Christians
||1% among African-Americans
As of 2003, a majority of those mainline Christians, Roman Catholics and secularists who have an opinion on the topic favor same-sex marriage. They
reported that: "Perhaps not surprisingly, people who have a gay friend,
family member, or co-worker are more than twice as likely to favor gay marriage
(55%) as those who do not (24%)." 3 These data show
how individual gays and lesbians coming out of the closet can affect the
public's opinion. It is much easier for a person to be opposed to equal
rights for gays and lesbians if they perceive lesbians and gays as a nameless,
faceless mob with an evil intent towards the culture. It is much more difficult
to be opposed to marriage equality if they personally know a gay friend, co-worker, or
Pew Forum: Summary of data on same-sex marriage from 1996 to 2012:
|| No opinion, or didn't answer
||During the lead-up to 2004 elections
||After the court ruling in California legalizing SSM
The poll in 2004-FEB showed a sudden reversal in the trend towards increasing
support for SSM. This poll was taken during a short period when hundreds of
couples married in San Francisco. The couples were later forcibly divorced
against their will by the courts.
The 2006 poll involved 1,405 randomly selected adults from across the U.S.
The margin of error is approximately ~+mn~3.2 percentage
points. Other polls are probably similar.
The 2008 poll showed that "... overwhelming majorities of Republicans (75%)
and white evangelical Protestants (81%) oppose allowing gays to marry, and about
half in each group strongly opposes gay marriage (48% of Republicans, 54% of
white evangelicals). Opinions about gay marriage in both of these groups are virtually
unchanged from July 2004. 5
The 2012 poll found that that 65% of Democrats favored SSM while 29% were opposed. Independents were 51% in favor and 40% opposed. Republicans were 24% in favor and 70% opposed.
The gap between Democrats and Republicans was 23 percentage points in 2004; 31% in 2008 and 41% in 2012. The country is becoming more polarized about marriage equality.
Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of 2010-AUG:
The latest major poll was conducted by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics over five days starting on 2010-AUG-06. It was the first major poll to show that most American adults support SSM.
Responding to the question: "Do you think gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" the results were:
Yes 49%; No 51%; Unsure or no response: 0%.
Responding to the question: "Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" the results were:
Yes 52%; No 46%; Unsure or no response: 2%.. 6
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Gail Mathabane, "Gays face same battle interracial couples fought,"
USA Today, 2004-JAN-25.
- John Rogers, "Kung Fu Monkey" blog, 2005-MAR-16, at: http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/
- "Religion and politics: Contention and consensus," The Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press, 2003-JUL-24, at: http://pewforum.org/ This is a PDF file
- Keating Holland, "Poll: Bush continues to lead Gore in
presidential match-up: Education tops list of voter concerns,"
CNN.com, 2000-JAN-18, at: http://www.cnn.com/
- "Gay Marriage Is Back On The Radar For Republicans, Evangelicals But Overall
Opposition to Gay Marriage is Less Than in 2004," Pew Research Center,
2008-JUN-12, at: http://pewresearch.org/
"Same-sex marriage, gay rights," PollingReport.com, as at 2010-AUG-13, at: http://www.pollingreport.com/
- Domenico Montanaro, "Poll shows support for gay marriage," First Read, 2009-APR-30, at: http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/
"Public Opinion on Gay Marriage: Opponents Consistently Outnumber Supporters," Pew Forum, 2009-JUL-09, at: http://pewforum.org/
"Two-Thirds of Democrats Now Support Gay Marriage," The Pew Forum, 2012-JUL-31, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
Copyright © 2001 TO 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2012-AUG-02
Author: B.A. Robinson