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Public opinion polls on lesbian. gay,
bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) matters

Graphs showing opposition to, & support of,
same-sex marriage (SSM) over past two decades

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This topic is continued from a previous essay

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A brief overview of current and past public support of same-sex marriage, and opposition to it:

Public opinion polls since the late 1980s have shown a gradually increasing support for SSM and a gradual reduction in opposition in the U.S.

The Washington Post newspaper conducted one of their regular joint polls with ABC News and published the following graph on 2011-MAR-17. Polling data from 2003 to 2011 is included. Their most recent data shows that SSM was supported by 53% of American adults, compared with 44% opposed -- a 9 percentage point margin:

Washington Post graph

The most recent survey was taken among a representative national sample of 1,005 adults; the margin of error is ±3.5 percentage points. 1 It shows 53% support and 44% opposition to SSM.

Nate Silver's "FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right" blog combined a massive number of data points extracted from poll results listed at pollingreport.com, the General Social Survey, and other sources. 2 He produced the following graph on 2011-APR-20. Data is shown from the late 1980s when support was only of the order of11% and opposition was about 73%. :

Image of Nate Silver's graph

 

Gallup Inc. performed a telephone survey similar to the Washington Post's between 2011-MAY-05 and 08 among 1,016 adults and reported the results on MAY-20. 3 The margin of error is ± 4 percentage points.

Gallup data shows that support for SSM has increased from 27% to 53% -- almost doubled -- between 1996 and 2011. Opposition has dropped from 68% to 45% during the same interval.

The Gallup and Washington Post/ABC News polls agreed very closely: both found support for SSM at 53% and agreed within 1 percentage point on the percentage opposed to allowing SSM.

A similar survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in early 2011-MAY showed similar results. 4 Of particular interest was their analysis of support and opposition by religious groups. Those unaffiliated with a faith group were overwhelmingly in favor of permitting SSM; White members of mainline Protestant denominations were solidly in favor of permitting SSM. Major opposition came from minority Christians -- mostly Black. One interesting finding is that White evangelicals follow the teachings of their faith groups and are overwhelmingly opposed by more than a 3 to 1 ratio. However, most Roman Catholics ignore the teachings of their Church and are solidly in favor of SSM; they appear to have largely abandoned the teachings of the hierarchy.

Some religious conservatives had earlier suggested that to ask whether SSM should be "legal" or "illegal" as in the Washington Post/ABC poll had biased the results in favor of supporting SSM. However, the Gallup Inc. poll asked whether same-sex marriages should be "recognized by the law as valid..." and found the same results. Thus, the use of the terms legal and illegal does not seem to bias the results.

One interesting factor is the political affiliation of individuals on both sides of the issue. Gallup found that between 2010-MAY and 2011-MAY:

  • There was a rapid increase of 9 percentage points for support of SSM between 2010 and 2011
  • The increase was "... exclusively among political independents and Democrats. Republicans' views did not change." 3
  • In 2011, support by:
  • Democrats was 69%, an increased by 13 percentage points over the year;
  • Independents was 59%, an increase of 10 percentage points; and
  • Republicans was 28%; unchanged over the year.
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A difficult decision being faced by conservative Protestant denominations and para-church groups:

There are numerous indicators that older teens and young adults now strongly support marriage equality for persons of all sexual orientations. For example:

  • A national poll of U.S. high school seniors during 2001 indicated that they support  equal rights for gays and lesbians at a much higher level than their parents. These students are now adults and have the right to vote on propositions and other citizen initiatives.

  • A New York State poll during 2011 shows that 58% of all voters support SSM but that this value rises to 74% among persons 18 to 34 years-of-age. It is extremely rare for Americans in any age group to exhibit this level of support on any moral/ethical topic.

Increasingly, the youth and young adults are viewing homophobia -- defined as opposition to equal rights for LGBTs -- to be in the same class as racism, sexism, xenophobia, religism (intolerance based on religious faith) etc. Articles are beginning to appear in the religious media expressing concern that if youth and young adults continue to increasingly accept homosexual and bisexual orientations as normal and natural, that conservative Christians will be viewed as bigots.

In North America, opposition for equal rights for the LGBT community is being led primarily by individuals and para-church groups in the conservative wing of Protestant Christianity. The Roman Catholic hierarchy also favors some forms of discrimination against LGBT persons; however individual Catholics show fairly strong support for SSM. The conservative wings of Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and other religions also oppose marriage equality. However, because they have relatively few members, they do not have nearly the clout of Christian conservatives. And so, most groups fighting against equality for LGBTs -- such as the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, etc. -- come mainly from conservative Protestants.

This anti-equality policy may present a serious organizational challenge to conservative faith groups, particularly to fundamentalist and other evangelical denominations. It is well known that many of their youth disassociate themselves from church when they start living on their own. In the past, they generally returned later in life as they began to build a family. But there are indications that young adults are being increasingly lost forever to the church. Reluctance to rejoin a religious group that is increasingly known for its homophobia and transphobia may well be playing a major role in their decision.

This may result in the leadership of conservative Protestant congregations, denominations, and para-church groups being forced to make some hard decisions in the future about whether to continue their present attitudes and policies against the LGBT community, or whether to reinterpret the seven biblical passages that mention same-sex behavior and relax their policies against equal treatment of LGBTs.

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Conclusions and our prediction for the future:

For the foreseeable future, state battles in favor of marriage equality which involve plebescites or other citizen initiatives are going to remain a waste of time in those states that are predominately Republican. However, the rapidly rising support among Democrats and Independents makes it more likely that SSM will be legalized through citizen initiatives in some of the more liberal states.

If the past conflict over inter-racial marriage is a good indicator of the future of SSM, then we might expect the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize SSM across the entire U.S., but only after marriage equality has first been achieved in a substantial minority of states. The lawsuit Perry v. Schwarzenegger to restore SSM in California may possibly be the legal challenge that legalizes SSM nationally. On the other hand, it may be premature, and result in a serious defeat for SSM that could set the cause of marriage equality back a decade or more.

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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. Sandhya Somashekhar and Peyton Craighill, "Slim majority back gay marriage, Post-ABC poll says," Washington Post, 2011-MAR-17, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  2. Nate Silver, "Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority, FiveThirtyEight Blog, 2011-APR-20, at: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/
  3. "For first time, majority of Americans favor legal gay marriage," Gallup Inc, 2011-MAY-20, at: http://www.gallup.com/ Image copyright © Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.
  4. "Majority of Americans say they support same-sex marriage, adoption by gay and lesbian couples," Public Religion Research Institute, 2011-MAY-19, at: http://www.publicreligion.org/

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Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2011-SEP-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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