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Religious Tolerance logo

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

1996-2012: Attitude towards SSM by
African Americans and U.S. Southerners

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Sponsored link.

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Support/opposition by African Americans:

Circa 1996, the levels of support for, and opposition to, the legalization of same-sex marriage (SSM) among African Americans was almost identical to those among the White population. Any differences were well within the margin of error of the survey.

Data from the Pew Research Center shows:

1996 attitude on SSM Among Whites Among African Americans
In favor

Between 1996 and 2012, opposition against SSM has decreased in both groups at about the same rate: -- about 0.8 percentage points per year (PPY).

More recently, support for SSM has increased among Whites much faster than among African Americans. Between 1996 and 2012-APR:

Average rate of change Among Whites Among African Americans
In favor
1.3 PPY
0.8 PPY
- 0.8% PPY
- 0.8% PPY

By 2012, many polls have consistently shown that most American adults favor SSM. However, among African Americans, only a minority support SSM; there remains a margin of 10 percentage points between support and opposition. If the average rate of increase in support over the past 16 years continues, it will take until 2018-Fall before most African Americans favor SSM. 1 However, as shown by the graph below, the rate of change in acceptance of and opposition to SSM appears to be accelerating rapidly in recent years. The gap may well be closed by 2014 or 2015.

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1996 to 2012: Polling data from Pew Research Center:

Chart on SSM comparing Whites & African Americans 1

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Possible reasons for the slower increase in support for SSM by African Americans:

One reason for the slow increase in support for SSM among African Americans might be their religious affiliation. Fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians form the main opposition to marriage equality in the U.S. A larger percentage of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians is found among African Americans than in the general population.

Another cause might be the increasing perception in the U.S. that denial of equal marriage and other forms of discrimination against the LGBT community has become a major current civil rights concern. This naturally draws a comparison with past denial of equal rights of African Americans. That discrimination started centuries ago with the arrival of human slavery in the U.S. It continues today in the form of widespread racial segregation and oppression of African Americans. This naturally leads to resentment on the part of many African Americans because their degree of suffering was massive compared to the current pain experienced by lesbians and gays. Prior to the end of slavery in the 1860s, African American slaves were considered property to be bought and sold; they were physically abused. For centuries, they were not allowed to marry. Their relationships were broken up at the whim of the slave owners, Black women were raped with impunity. African Americans were not allowed to vote. Their education opportunities were limited. The list continues.

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2012-MAY: Democratic leaders' support for SSM and their effect of African American attitudes:

In the months before his election as President in 2008-NOV, President Obama repeatedly said that he favored civil unions for same-sex couples which gave them the same rights and protections of marriage. However, wherever civil unions have been tried as a "separate but equal" system to marriage, they have failed. "Civil unionized" couples often have to fight and/or launch lawsuits to obtain the rights guaranteed to them. Many people and institutions are not aware that civil unions are intended to carry the same legal rights as marriage. Civil Unions have also failed because they do not give same-sex couples the right to call their relationship a marriage. This is for some people the most important right of all. To appreciate how important the term "marriage" is to many couples in a civil union, one need only ask any opposite-sex married couple whether they would be willing to trade in their marriage certificate for a civil union document.

Since taking office in 2008-JAN, President Obama had been often asked about his stand on same-sex marriage. He had always replied that his position was "evolving." Then he would typically deflect the question by pointing out the achievements of his administration in furthering equality for LGBTs: passing the federal hate-crimes bill; repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military; issuing an executive order to require almost all hospitals to recognize the visitation rights of same-sex relationship partners; and ordering the Justice Department stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act from constitutional challenges in the courts.

On MAY-06, Vice President Joe Biden, who is a practicing Roman Catholic, issued a positive same-sex marriage message on "Meet the Press." He said that he was:

"... absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that." 2

On MAY-07: Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on MSNBC's program "Morning Joe." When asked if same-sex couples should be able to marry, he said: "Yes, I do." He also commented that he didn't think that anyone had asked him that question in public before. 3

Finally, on MAY-08, President Obama's gave a detailed interview with Robin Roberts on ABC's "Good Morning America. He indicated his support for SSM. 4,5 He said:

"I've been going through an evolution on this issue. I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. At a certain point, I just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think that same sex couples should be able to get married. ... I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. ... And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word 'marriage' was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth. ... I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."

Micah Cohen of the New York Times commented:

"Since Mr. Obama declared his support for gay marriage ... and similar pronouncements by the N.A.A.C.P, Jay-Z and Colin Powell, a handful of polls suggest that opinions in the African-American community are shifting.

  • An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted May 17-20 found 59 percent of African-Americans in favor of same-sex marriage.

  • A Public Policy Polling survey in North Carolina, taken just after the state approved Amendment One, which prohibited both same-sex marriage and civil unions, found that black support for legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions had increased 11 percentage points to 55 percent in favor and 39 percent against. A poll by the same group taken before Mr. Obama’s announcement " and before the voting in North Carolina " showed 44 percent of black respondents in favor of same-sex marriage or civil unions and 51 percent against.

  • In Maryland, a Public Policy Polling survey on a referendum on the state’s new law legalizing same-sex marriage found that black support for same-sex marriage had essentially flipped after Mr. Obama’s announcement. Support for same-sex marriage jumped from 39 percent to 55 percent, and opposition dropped from 56 percent to 36 percent. Both polls in Maryland were sponsored by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which supports gay marriage.

Cohen gives several reasons why these data should be cautiously interpreted.

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2018-APR: Current support for same-sex marriage in the U.S. South:

A "Survey Monkey" poll by NBC News revealed that a majority of voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia favor allowing same-sex couples to marry -- but not by as great a margin as all U.S. adults do. In early 2018, a little less than three years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriages across the country, 55% of Southern adults agree with marriage equality, compared with 64% among the whole nation. 6This is a significant increase since the Pew Research Center's poll in 2014 which found that only 44% of Southerners supported marriage equality. 7

However, the same NBC poll found that 65% of Southern adults believe that business owners should have the religious freedom to discriminate against married couples of the same-sex, if providing goods and services to same-sex couples violated the owner's religious beliefs. 6

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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. Micah Cohen, "Signs of Shift Among African-Americans on Same-Sex Marriage," FiveThirtyEight blog, New York Times, 2012-MAY-25, at:
  2. "Video: Biden: "I am absolutely comfortable with gay marriage," The Steve Gill Show, 2012-MAY-06, at:
  3. "Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorses gay marriage. Is Obama cornered?," The Christian Science Monitor, 2012-MAY-07, at:
  4. Col. E. Lee, "Obama supports same-sex marriage," Wall Street Journal, 2012-MAY-09, at:
  5. Rick Klein, "Obama: ‘I Think Same-Sex Couples Should Be Able to Get Married’," ABC News, 2012-MAY-09, at:
  6. Alex Seitz-Wald, "NBC News poll: The South, once a conservative bastion, is changing," NCB News, 2018-APR-12, at:
  7. "Gay marriage arrives in the South, where the public is less enthused," Pew Research, 2014-OCT-15, at:

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Site navigation (How you may have got here):

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > Blacks and SSM menu > here

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Copyright 2012  by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-SEP-09
Latest major expansion and update: 2012-SEP-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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