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

2001 to 2012: Pew Research graphs:
support/opposition of same-sex marriage
(SSM) by age and religion. Major opposition
& support among evangelicals & Republicans.

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This topic is continued from a previous essay

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Support for same-sex marriage among different age groups:

Pew Research has been monitoring support for and opposition to same-sex marriage since 2001. There has been a major increase in support for SSM among all age groups between 2001 and 2012:

Support for SSM among different generations 5

During the nine year interval between 2003 and 2012:

  • Support by Millennials' (those 18 to 31 years-of-age) has increased 12 percentage points; 13 percentage points/decade.
  • Support by Generation X's (those 32 to 47 has increased by 11 percentage points; 12 percentage points/decade.
  • Support by Baby Boomers' (those 48 to 66) has increased by 8 percentage points; 9 percentage points/decade.
  • Support by the Silent Generation (those 67 to 84) has increased by 15 percentage points; 17 percentage points/decade.

Support among all age groups is averaging about 1.3 percentage points increase per year. Although this does not seem like much, over a decade it amounts to a 13% increase. With opposition fading at about the same rate, the gap between support and opposition is increasing by about 25 percentage points per decade. This rate of increase in support is similar to that seen in the second half of the 20th century over interracial marriage. We suspect that changes in all major social attitudes have proceeded at approximately this pace, whether it be support for the abolition of slavery, for universal suffrage, for an end of racial segregation, etc.

There is an interesting anomoly among the Millennials between 2010 and 2012, their support for SSM has increased by 12 percentage points over 3 years -- about three times the average rate. This is probably due to their recognize that some of their co-workers, fellow students, family members, relatives, etc. are from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual community (LGBT).

By 2017, average support for same-sex marriage among all American adults reached 63%. That is, the average U.S. adult reached the same support level for gay marriage as Millennials had in 2012. This type of change has was seen in the past concerning interracial marriage. In 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that legalized interracial marriage, 72% of American adults were opposed to such marriages. By mid-2013, polling data showed that about 87% of U.S. adults favored allowing interracial couples to marry.

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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 of people of other religious faiths) 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 begin to 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 formally favors some forms of discrimination against LGBT persons; however most individual Catholics reject the leadership of their Church -- as they do on many other sexually related topics -- and show fairly strong support for SSM. Catholics are as supportive of SSM as are white mainline Protestants, and much more supportives than Black Protestant and White evangelical Protestants. 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. Thus, 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. -- are mainly supported by evangelical 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 identified by 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 some theologians believe condemn same-sex behavior and relax their policies against equal treatment of LGBTs.

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Support for same-sex marriage among followers of different religious groups:

Religious attitudes towards SSM are essentially controlled by people in one of two religious groupings: Christians and the "Notas." The latter are NOT Affiliated with any organized religion. This group is often referred to as the "Nones." However, when the word is spoken, it is indistinguishable from "Nuns;" this causes much confusion.

The NOTAs are heavily supportive of SSM, with about 3/4 in favor. A slight majority of Catholics and White mainline Protestants favor SSM. A little more than one in three Black Protestants favor SSM. Support among White Evangelical Protestants is a miniscule 19%. All of these support values are are trending upwards:

Support for SSM vs. faith group 5

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The long-term impact of two sub-groups: evangelicals, and Republicans:

The religious group most heavily opposed to same-sex marriage circa 2012 are evangelical Christians with only 19% support. This is approximately:

  • One quarter the support of the NOTAs (those NOT Affiliated with any religion),
  • One third that of Catholics and white mainline Protestants, and
  • One half that of black Protestants.

The political group most heavily opposed to same-sex marriage circa 2012 are Repubicans with only 31% support. This is approximately:

  • 40% of the support of the NOTAs (those NOT Affiliated with any religion),
  • 60% that of Catholics and white mainline Protestants, and
  • 90% to that of black Protestants.

However a deeper analysis of evangelicals and Republicans in 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found some very interesting data:

  • Among evangelicals, support for SSM was only 12% among seniors, and 19% of all evangelicals. However, some 44% -- almost half -- of evangelical millennials favored same-sex marriage. These are persons between 18 and 29 years-of-age at the time of the survey. 6


  • White evangelical Protestant support for SSM increasing by about 1 percentage point per year,
  • Adult millennial support for SSM increasing more than 3 percentage points per year, and
  • Black Protestant support -- most of whom are evangelicals -- increasing at about 2 percentage points per year, then

a majority of millennial evangelicals should support same-sex marriage by and after sometime in 2014.

  • Among Republicans, support for SSM was only 19% among seniors, and 31% of all Republicans. However, some 49% -- essentially half -- of Republican millennials favored same-sex marriage. 6 Support among this latter group should be a majority -- about 51 to 53% -- by late 2013.

Once a substantial percentage of the leading religious and political groups who are in opposition to SSM start supporting it, it would seem inevitable that it is only a matter of time before SSM becomes available everywhere in the U.S.

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Conclusions and our prediction for the immediate future:

PPRI stated in 2011::

"Public support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has increased significantly over the last 5 years. 

  • Many polling organizations have recorded double-digit increases in support for same-sex marriage since 2006.

  • In 2011, for the first time, multiple surveys from different organizations (including Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CNN and Public Religion Research Institute) found a majority of the public favored same-sex marriage.

  • In PRRI’s current [2011-]July survey, views about same-sex marriage are evenly divided; 47% of Americans favor it and 47% oppose.

Support has continued to increase in following years.

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 the more liberal -- blue -- states.

Election Day in 2012-NOV produced four surprises in favor of SSM: The voters in three states (Maine, Maryland and Washington) legalized SSM. Voters in Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment banning SSM. Later, during the first half of 2013-MAY, state legislatures in Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island passed SSM bills which were subsequently signed into law. Later that month, support for a bill to legalize SSM in Illinois came close to being approved in the House, but did not have quite enough votes when the Legislature recessed.

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 Hollingsworth v. Perry to restore SSM in California could be the legal challenge that legalizes SSM nationally. However, that is a REALLY long shot. The court's ruling is expected during the week of 2013-JUN-23.

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The U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodges on 2015-JUN-26. It legalized gay marriages across the United States with the exception of American Samoa. People in that territory are generally considered to be American residents, not American citizens. Thus, not all High Court rulings are recognized there.

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Related essay:

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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:
  2. Nate Silver, "Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority, FiveThirtyEight Blog, 2011-APR-20, at:
  3. "For first time, majority of Americans favor legal gay marriage," Gallup Inc, 2011-MAY-20, at: 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:
  5. Copyright 2013 Pew Research Center. Copied from their web site at:
  6. "Generations at Odds: The Millennial Generation and the Future of Gay and Lesbian Rights," Public Religion Research Institute, 2011-AUG-29, at:

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Copyright 2001 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2017-AUG-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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