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Religious Tolerance logo

Trends in U.S. public opinion polls
on same-sex marriage (SSM)...

SSM support in all states: 1994 to 2009

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Support for SSM in each state:

The following graph should give major encouragement to supporters of marriage equality, and strike the greatest fear into the hearts of those opposed to SSM.

It was published in a paper by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University. Their article is titled "Gay rights in the states: Public opinion and policy responsiveness;" it appeared in the American Political Science Review. 1

The graph shows how support for SSM has changed from 1994 to 2009 in each state:

  • The triangular data points show the percent support for SSM for each state during the interval 1994 to 1996.
  • The square data points are from 2003 and 2004.
  • The red circular points are from 2008 and 2009.
  • Those states where SSM was legal in mid-2009 are shown in solid red.
  • Washington DC data were not included.

States are sorted according to their level of support for SSM during 1994-1996: New York with the greatest support is at the top; Utah with the least support is at the bottom.

Support for SSM 2

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Some observations over the fifteen-year interval 1994 to 2009:

  • Change is accelerating. On average, support for SSM has increased over the last four years (solid lines) about as much as it did over the previous eight years (dashed lines).

  • Continually increasing support is seen on all 50 states. No state has shown a reduction of support.

  • Those states showing relatively high support for SSM during the 1990s typically showed the largest increases in support during the last four years.

  • Utah is in a class by itself, with minimal support for SSM and a rate of change that is smaller than almost all other states. This is probably because of the high percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) in Utah. That particular denomination has greater opposition to marriage equality than almost all of the Christian faith groups. The church and its members successfully gave tens of millions of dollars in contributions to overturn SSM in California.

  • Massachusetts' adults exhibit the greatest support for SSM in 2008-2009 of any state. This may be because the state has been marrying same-sex couples for the longest time -- since 2004, -- and people have found that no adverse effects have resulted. Marriage appears to be very healthy in the state; it has the lowest divorce rate in the U.S.

  • The state with the second highest support for SSM is Rhode Island. However, same-sex couples currently cannot marry there. The Roman Catholic Church is particularly influential in that state. Bills to legalize same-sex marriages have been introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee every year since 1997. None have proceeded; none have even made it out of committee.

  • Vermont shows the third highest level of support. This may be because, in the middle of the year 2000, the state was the first to legalize same-sex civil unions. SSMs became available more recently, in the Fall of 2009. Vermonters are probably aware that no adverse effects resulted from the creation of civil unions.

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Comparison of SSM trends with those of inter-racial marriage:

If detailed data were available by state and year for public opinion about inter-racial marriage during the last half of the 20th century, it probably would have shown similar trends. Unfortunately, we have only been able to find a few pieces of data:

bullet In 1948, about 90% of American adults opposed interracial marriage when the Supreme Court of California legalized it.
bullet In 1967, about 72% were opposed to interracial marriage and 48% felt that marrying a person of another race should be prosecuted as a criminal act. This was the year when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage everywhere in the U.S.
bullet In 1991, those adults opposed to interracial marriage became a minority.
bullet Opposition dropped at about 1 percentage point per year between 1948 and 1991.

Human rights conflicts over the years such as:

  • Ending human slavery,
  • Allowing women to enter professions previously restricted to men,
  • Universal suffrage,
  • Ending racial segregation,
  • Allowing loving, committed same-sex couples to marry, and
  • Accepting transgender persons and transsexuals

probably displayed or are displaying similar trends. It seems that when an oppressed group of individuals, whether defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or some other factor organize to achieve equal rights and protections, they eventually succeed with the support of some religious groups and opposition by others.

One interesting observation is that the rate of increase of support for the legalization of inter-racial marriage matches fairly closely the corresponding rate for SSM. Both averaged on the order of 1% per year. The maximum rate at which a culture can make fundamental changes appears to be determined by the birth rate, and life expectancy. This is apparently because so many people develop their cultural beliefs as youths and young adults and don't change them throughout their life.

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More recent data:


  • There was a small temporary reversal in these trends during 2015 which may have been caused by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in mid-2015. This was in the case Obergefell v. Hodges; it legalized gay marriage throughout the United States.

By early 2017:

  • Approval had reached 64%. By political party, 74% of Democrats, 71% if Independants, and 47% of Republicans support gay marriage. By religion, 65% of Roman Catholics and 55% of other Christians support SSM.

  • Opposition had declined to 34%.

  • As of early 2017, the only U.S. location where qualified same-sex couples cannot marry is the Territory of American Samoa where most people are regarded as American residents and not American citizens. Thus, the High Court's rulings are not necessarily recognized there.


References used:

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

  1. Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips, "Gay rights in the states: Public opinion and policy responsiveness," American Political Science Review, Volume 103 (3), 2009.
  2. Ibid, Figure 6, Page 48, Columbia University, at: This is a PDF file.

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Polls > SSM-Civil union polls > here

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Copyright © 2010 & 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-FEB-26
Latest update: 2011-MAY-11
Author: B.A. Robinson
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