Yesterday, Back in October Pew Research announced that for the first time in 15 years of polling, fewer than half of those surveyed oppose same-sex marriage.
Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?
While a plurality still say they oppose same-sex marriage, no one can miss the historical trend. Since 1996 the gap between those say they support same-sex marriage and those who do not has gone from 38% down to 6%, narrowing by a little more than 2% a year. Since 2005, the gap has narrowed by 11%, just about 2% a year as well. Past performance is no guarantee of the future, but if the trend holds we can expect that in a little less than 3 years the Pew polling will be showing plurality support for equal marriage rights.
The Pew Poll asks a two-way question: do you favor same-sex marriage or not? There is a variant that other polls ask, a three-way question: traditional marriage only, civil unions, or marriage equality?
CBS has asked this three-way question for the past seven years now. Here are the trendlines connecting CBS's first polling result in 2004 with their most recent in 2010:
Which comes closest to your view? Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry. OR, Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry. OR, There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.”
The CBS results are consistent with the Pew Poll. Somewhere around 40% of Americans now support marriage equality, even when given the choice of civil unions. Almost all of those opting for civil unions come from the pool of people against same-sex marriage, it seems. The CBS results are also consistent with recent polling in Illinois, which suggested that 67% of the voters supported the recently-enacted civil unions bill. (The CBS results show that 70% currently support marriage equality or civil unions.)
Some other interesting results from the latest Pew Survey:
- Only 53% of Democrats support same-sex marriage. That's a lot better than 24% of Republicans, but still leaves room for a huge increase in support.
- Only 53% of younger voters (18-29) support same-sex marriage. Again, much better than the 28% of those age 65 or older, but leaving a lot of room for improvement.
- Atheists and agnostics supported equal marriage rights at a whopping 80%, followed by those of the Jewish faith at 76%. White Evangelicals unsurpisingly came in lowest at 20%.
A few other polls have shown stronger support for equal marriage rights, but the questions have been worded very differently. For example, an AP poll:
“Should the federal government give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex, or not?”
Should: 52% Should not: 45%
And a recent CNN poll:
“Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?”
Yes: 52% No: 46%
What's the bottom line? It is quite clear the support for equal marriage rights will soon reach a plurality of Americans if trends continue, and may be there already. It is unlikely that a majority as yet support same-sex marriage but, unless society makes a U-turn, that day is going to come sooner rather than later. But majority support in and of itself is not enough, as has been amply demonstrated these past months in Congress. This is not a struggle that will be over soon…
Pew also asked about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Americans support repeal of DADT by a 2:1 ratio, 60% – 30%. These results are consistent with the average of other polls on the subject taken this year, and represents one of the most popular actions that Congress could take.
What I found particularly interesting about their DADT results is that of all 30 crosstab categories provided by Pew, only two groupings did not favor DADT repeal. Can you guess which two? I knew you could:
Conservative Republicans: 39% favor, 50% against.
White Evangelicals: 43% favor, 47% against.
And it's even pretty close — probably within the margin of error — for White Evangelicals! Every single other demographic grouping they listed favored repeal by a statistically significant amount.
Still, the President can't even get his Generals to support him on this.