How has the public’s attitude towards same-sex marriage changed over time?
In 2003, fewer than half of the public (48%) favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. But in recent years, support for same-sex marriage has risen across most demographic and political groups.
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Among adults, young Americans have long been the strongest supporters of same-sex marriage, with nearly 7 in 10 Millennials favoring it, compared to 37% of Americans who are part of the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945. Similarly, a majority of Democrats (56%) and independents support it, while just 27% of Republicans do.
While the shift in opinion has been driven in no small part by generational change, it has also reflected other factors that have helped shape the debate. During the past decade, for example, support for same-sex marriage has increased substantially among Catholics and white mainline Protestants. In contrast, support for same-sex marriage has shown little movement among evangelical Protestants or black Protestants.
Support for same-sex marriage among adults varies by race and ethnicity, with a majority of African Americans and Asian Americans favoring it. However, a smaller share of Hispanics and whites take this view.
Majorities of African Americans, Asians and Hispanics also say that legalizing same-sex marriage is good for society. These opinions have remained relatively steady in recent years, though a modest rise has occurred among Blacks.
Despite the broad support for same-sex marriage, some Americans remain concerned about its impact on social services and government budgets. In particular, a growing number of people have become worried that the legalization of same-sex marriage could reduce funding for programs like social services and health care.
The issue of whether the federal government should have the power to make such decisions on its own, or for states to decide for themselves, has generated some partisan differences. A majority of Democrats support a federal decision, while a larger percentage of independents and Republicans believe that state governments should determine such matters.
Some opponents of same-sex marriage, however, point to religious freedom as a reason to oppose it. Evangelicals and other Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, have traditionally taken a stance that marriage is based on love and should be limited to a union between a man and a woman. But in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of gays and lesbians to marry, evangelicals have framed their opposition as a religious liberty issue.
In the end, however, such arguments may fail to sway many voters. Moreover, some Americans are concerned that the legalization of same-sex couples could cause a shift in attitudes toward divorce.
In addition, the public is increasingly concerned about the potential for same-sex marriage to increase the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. Some have argued that such a trend could lead to higher rates of HIV infection, hepatitis C and other infections. Likewise, others are concerned that the legalization of same-sex relationships could lead to a reduction in birth control options and reproductive health care.