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Longitudinal U.S. public opinion polls

Same-sex civil unions

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Status of same-sex marriages (SSM) and civil unions:

By 2010-MAY, same-sex marriages were only available in 5 states and the District of Columbia. However, six states allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships. In the U.S., these couples received all of the rights, privileges, and obligations that their state gives to married couples, but are currently denied about 1,050 federal benefits. The current status of same-sex marriage and civil unions is shown in a separate essay.

In mid-2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. It legalized gay marriages throughout the U.S. with the exception of the territory of American Samoa. Most people there are American residents and not American citizens. Thus rulings by the High Court are not necessarily applicable there.

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Gallup Organization poll data 1996 to 2003:

The Gallup Organization has been polling the public since 1996 about same-sex marriages and civil unions. For most polls, they asked the question:

"Suppose that on election day this year you could vote on key issues as well as candidates. Please tell me whether you would vote for or against each one of the following propositions. Would you vote...For or against a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples."

In 2001 they asked a slightly different question:

"Would you favor or oppose a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples?"

Their 2003 survey involved 1,005 randomly selected adults. The margin of error was ~+mn~3.2%. 1 Results were:
Date Favor unions Oppose unions No opinion
1996-APR 28% 67% 5%
2000-OCT 42 54 4
2001-MAY 44 52 4
2002-FEB 41 53 6
2002-APR 45 46 9
2002-MAY 46 51 3
2003-MAY 49 49 2

By early 2003-MAY, the Gallup results country was equally divided between those favoring and those opposing civil unions for gays and lesbians. This is a legislators' nightmare; no matter what they do -- or if they do nothing -- they will have massive numbers of voters angry at them. The momentum clearly was in the direction of a clear majority of American adults favoring unions in the near future. Further, the percentage of adults with no opinion has steadily dropped.

Results of a similar poll by the Washington Post were announced on 2003-AUG-14. Three unusual events had occurred between the May and August polls:

Perhaps because of these developments, there was a precipitous drop of 12% in support for civil unions.

Date Favor unions Oppose unions No opinion
2003-AUG 37% 60% 3%

A similar drop was observed in a Canadian poll about same-sex marriage during the same month. This appears to have been a temporary blip. 2,3

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Pew Research Center poll data 2003 to 2009:

They asked: "Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples?" 4

The question was similar to that asked by the Gallup Organization above, except that "legal agreements" replaced "civil unions" and "many of the same rights" replaced "some of the legal rights."

Date Favor unions Oppose unions No opinion Margin
2008-MAY 51 41 8 10
2009-APR 53 39 8 14

Equal numbers of American adults appear to have supported and opposed civil unions during early 2004. There has been a steady trend of more support for civil unions ever since. Still, the current level of support would probably have been insufficient to assure passage of a proposition or plebiscite until later in the decade. That is because:

  • A statistically designed survey among randomly selected adults gives a reasonably correct estimate of the percentages who are for and against civil unions, with a predictable accuracy.
  • A plebiscite or proposition only represents the wishes of those who are sufficiently motivated to get out and vote. It is well known that, on average, those who oppose benefits to same-sex couples are far more passionate about restricting rights than those who favor benefits have enthusiasm about granting rights.

Past events in the states where same-sex marriage (SSM) has been heavily promoted have shown that when SSM comes close to being implemented,much of the opposition switches to promote same-sex civil unions as a referred option to SSM. We may be seeing the same effect in the results of the Pew Forum polls. As SSM became legalized in Iowa and some New England states, national opposition to SSM may have switched to supporting civil unions.

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Gallup Organization poll data in 2017:

The percentage of LGBT adults in same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships was 12.8% in mid-2015 before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriages across the U.S.

Probably, many couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships at the time really preferred to be married. Many took advantage of the High Court ruling quickly. Two years later, in 2017-JUN, the percentage of LGBT couples in unions and partnersips had declined to 6.6% and the percentage of married LGBT adults had risen from 7.9% to 10.2%. 5

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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. "Six out of 10 Americans Say Homosexual Relations Should Be Recognized as Legal
    But Americans are evenly divided on issue of legal civil unions between homosexuals giving them the legal rights of married couples
    ," The Gallup Organization, 2003-MAY-15, at: *
  2. "New Poll: Majority of Americans are Defenders of Marriage," Family Research Council, Washington Update, 2003-AUG-14.
  3. Richard Mornin & Alan Cooperman, "Poll shows strong disapproval of religious sanctioning of same-sex relationships," Washington Post, 2003-AUG-14, at:
  4. "Law and Civil Rights," Polling Report, 2006, at:
  5. Jeffrey M. Jones, "In US, 10.2% of LGBT Adults Now Married to Same-Sex Spouse," Gallup, 2017-JUN-22, at:

* Gallup Poll data typically remains accessible to the public for a limited time, and then requires a premium membership to access.

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Polls > here

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Copyright 2001 TO 2017  by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2017-JUN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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