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Religious Tolerance logo

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

SSM support, by age and state, in 2008

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The effect of subject's age earlier essay):

The effect of age: the generation gap: The 2008 Newsweek poll reported a large generation gap in subjects' responses. 1,2 The data showed a consistent trend in which young adults are much more supportive of marriage equality for loving, committed same-sex couples, whereas older adults are much less supportive.

When asked whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, results were:

Age group
In favor 
Don't know/
refuse answer
18 to 34
35 to 44
45  to 64
All ages

The above trend is replicated in many other polls before and since.

The greater support of SSM by younger adults may be largely because many lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, young adults, and others have been taking a major risk to their own safety by coming out of the closet in recent decades and revealing their sexual orientation openly. Thousands of student-led gay-straight alliances have acquainted students with the bullying, ridiculing, oppression and violence experienced by homosexuals and bisexuals. As a result, younger people are far more likely to know one or more lesbians, gays, or bisexuals as a friend or family member. Studies have shown that the most effective way to increase a person's acceptance of sexual minorities is to have them befriend such a person.

Jonathan Merritt, a faith and culture writer who serves as national spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, has written:

"According to Public Religion Research, 37% of evangelicals ages 18-34 have a close friend or relative who is gay. Only 16% of evangelicals 35 and older can say the same. ... When I hear younger evangelicals address homosexuality, they speak with compassion, sympathy and love that have been uncommon among the Falwells and Robertsons. But this change in tone isn't surprising because rising generations are twice as likely to be in close community with someone who is gay. It is a lot easier to fight a faceless 'agenda' than it is to war against a friend." 3,4

On the other hand, many elderly still retain their beliefs about homosexuals that they formed decades ago when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by mental health professionals and widely regarded as a criminal act by lawmakers.

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Support for SSM by state and age:

Much more detailed information is contained 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," and was published in the American Political Science Review. 5 Figure 8 of that article shows estimated support for SSM in 2008 among four groups, sorted by age. They are referred to as "cohorts." It shows that:
  • 65 year and over cohort: No state has support from more than 34% of this group.
  • 45 to 64 year cohort: Massachusetts is the only state where most of the cohort favors SSM. (53%)
  • 30 to 44 year cohort: Only in 11 states do most of the cohort favor SSM. These include 10 northern states and Hawaii.
  • 18 to 29 year cohort: Most adults in this age group strongly support SSM. Only in a dozen -- mostly southern -- states does the majority of the cohort not support SSM. 6

Support for SSM by age 4

Support of SSM varies inversely by age in every state:

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

Some observations:

  • Apparently no data was collected from Washington, DC.

  • In each of the 50 states, support decreases with the person's age.

  • In the graph, states are sorted according to the average percentage support for SSM for all ages. Alabama is at the bottom with only 23% support for SSM; Massachusetts is at the top of the chart with 56% support.

  • In all states, support by the four cohorts are separated, with the 18 to 29-year-old cohort always having the highest support, 30 to 44 year-old's next, the 45 to 64 year-olds next and the 65 years and above showing the least support.

  • As the 18 to 29 year-old cohort matures, they will enter positions of power and influence over the culture. They will probably be influenced by new adults who are even more supportive of SSM. They will also be influenced by the negative beliefs of older persons. It is difficult to predict whether the cohort will increase or decrease in acceptance of SSM.

  • One thing is certain: as time progresses, elderly people will retire from positions of power and influence and eventually disappear from the voting pool.

  • Over all, it is very likely that support will gradually increase in most or all states.

  • The six states with highest support for SSM (MA, VT, RI, CT, NY, NH) are all in the Northeast.

  • Of the ten states with the lowest support for SSM (AL, MS, AR, OK, UT, TN, KY, SC, LA, GA) almost all are from the South. One exception is Utah. SSM support there is probably influenced by the high percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). That particular denomination has greater opposition to marriage equality than almost all of the other Christian faith groups. The church and its members successfully gave tens of millions of dollars in contributions to overturn SSM in California.

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References used:

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

  1. Arian Campo-Flores, "A Gay Marriage Surge Public support grows, according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll," Newsweek, 2008-DEC-05, at: http://www.newsweek.com/
  2. "Newsweek Poll: Gay Marriage/President-Elect Obama," Newsweek, 2008-DEC-05, at: http://www.newsweek.com/ This is a PDF file.
  3. Quoted in "A New Kind of Christianity," Chapter 17, Note 5.
  4. Jonathan Merritt, "An evangelical's plea: 'Love the sinner'," On Religion column, USA Today, 2009-APR, at: http://blogs.usatoday.com/
  5. Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips, "Gay rights in the states: Public opinion and policy responsiveness."American Political Science Review, Volume 103 (3), 2009, at: http://www.columbia.edu/ This is a PDF file.
  6. Ibid, Figure 6: "Explicit support for same-sex marriage by state and age," Page 50.

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

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-FEB-27
Latest update: 2010-FEB-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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