Support for same-sex marriage has grown steadily

Younger Americans cited as key factor

Not so long ago, opposition to same-sex marriage was the norm. 

For example, when the Gallup polling agency first asked Americans about same-sex marriage in 1996, 68 percent were opposed to recognizing marriage between two men or two women, with slightly more than a quarter, 27 percent, supporting it.

Since then, the shift in favor of recognizing same-sex marriage has been steadily growing.  In 2011, support for gay marriage first crossed the 50 percent mark – and it has remained at or above that mark ever since.

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A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll puts support for gay marriage recognition in the United States at its highest point yet, with 59 percent in favor.  Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia now recognize a constitutional right for men to marry men and women to marry women.

Those who are in the business of measuring public opinion say this dramatic shift is primarily the result of strong support for gay marriage among younger Americans. A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly 70 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 favor same-sex marriage. Support among Americans aged 68 and older hovers around 40 percent. But the shift also can be attributed to the increased visibility of gays and lesbians across the culture, plus three-quarters of Americans now say they have a relative, friend or co-worker who is gay.

In addition to age, opinions about gay marriage divide along political, religious and even geographic lines. In Alabama, for example, courts recently struck down a state ban on gay marriage despite the strong opposition to same-sex marriage in the state. In fact, Alabama has the lowest support for same-sex marriage in the country. Nearly 60 percent of Alabama residents oppose same-sex marriage. That’s essentially the reverse of where Americans overall stand on the issue.

The Pew Research Institute, which has been polling on the question of gay marriage since 2001, created this extensive graphic on the changing attitudes toward gay marriage.  Here are some of their findings from the 2014 poll:

  • A vast majority of people who are unaffiliated with any religion support gay marriage, while a vast majority of white evangelical Protestants do not.
     

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Pew Research

  • Women support gay marriage more than men.
  • In 2001, roughly one-third of both whites and blacks expressed support for same-sex marriage, today 53 percent of whites support same-sex marriage, 42 percent of blacks.

Also, bucking the national trend is Kentucky.  According to a recent poll, 57 percent of Kentuckians oppose same-sex marriage, up from last year.  Thirty-three percent favor it, slightly down from last year.

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The results come only weeks before the Supreme Court hears arguments challenging same-sex marriage bans in four states, including Kentucky. 

WCPO Insiders can attend the Changing Face of Marriage -- a forum hosted by WCPO and Decode DC on the issue of marriage in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming hearing on same-sex marriage cases --- at 7p.m. Wednesday for free. Just email erin.flynn@wcpo.com to RSVP by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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