October 15, 2014

Gay marriage arrives in the South, where the public is less enthused

Regional Support, Gay Marriage 2014The Supreme Court’s recent decision not to take up several same-sex marriage cases has led to several more states legalizing gay marriage. And for the first time, much of this expansion of same-sex marriage is occurring in the South – including Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina – where public support for allowing gays and lesbians to wed is not as great as in other regions.

Nationwide, 52% of Americans now support gay marriage. In the South, aggregated Pew Research Center polls from 2014 have found that 44% of people support gay marriage – well below the East (61%), West (58%) and Midwest (52%).

Our polling data can be further analyzed by dividing each of the four major regions into smaller subregions. For example, in the South Atlantic region – which comprises Florida and Georgia as well as North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, four states that either recently legalized gay marriage or are likely to do so soon – respondents in 2014 are divided over same-sex marriage, with 45% in favor and 46% opposed.

Meanwhile, the South Central region – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas – is the only part of the country where there is still clearly more opposition to gay marriage (50%) than support for it (41%). So far, Oklahoma is the only South Central state where the practice is currently legal, although Kentucky and Tennessee may soon follow, depending on the outcome of a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which is expected soon.

In some other areas of the country where same-sex marriage is widely legal, there is overwhelming support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed. In New England, where gay marriage first became legal in the United States (in Massachusetts in 2004) and where all six states now allow it, 71% of people support same-sex marriage. And in the states that border the Pacific Ocean (all of which allow gay marriage, assuming a recent court decision applying to Alaska is not overturned), twice as many people favor same-sex marriage (63%) as oppose it (30%).

Regional Support for Same-Sex Marriage

All regions have seen growing support for same-sex marriage over the past decade. For example, while 44% of people in the South now favor gay marriage, that number was just 25% in 2003. The 19-point increase is comparable to the growth in support in the East (21-point jump from 40% to 61%), Midwest (22 points, 30% to 52%) and West (18 points, 40% to 58%) over the same time span.

Indeed, even many of those who are against same-sex marriage are resigned to its legality. Last year, we found that most Americans (72%) saw legal recognition of gay marriage as inevitable – including 59% of those who oppose it.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Richard sikes2 years ago

    I dont believe in same sex marriages,its against nature,it almost to crazy to believe that it is even allowed, I really don’t agree with the acceptance of it,even if the law says its fine,It was not intended for two of the same sex to have intercourse ,it disgusting ,its wrong,not in just a religious stance but it against what makes us human beings,we are not animals with no judgement or intelligence, we know right from wrong,,it is degrading to the human race, its not a race issue or civil issue,its about depravity ,its motivated by one’s lust and pleasure,I cannot believe this country has fallen this low,what’s next? Who can guess?

  2. James V2 years ago

    Great fact tanking, Michael. Thanks for the report. I agree somewhat with Chris Teague in that it feels like there’s a more positive (if you are in favor same sex marriage) story about the South in these data. More transformative, let’s say. I saw some other Pew data about various religious denomination’s views on society’s ideal stance toward homosexuality. Evangelicals and traditionally black churches (big in the South, I would think) both tended to say that society should discourage homosexuality. In other words, being religiously and politicly conservative, I find it fairly remarkable that acceptance of same-sex marriage is increasing by similar percentages as in other regions. Of course, starting out with a lower 2003 starting point, it’s possible that the South didn’t encounter some ceiling effects that other regions encountered. Do you have any information about how these data look controlling for urban/rural factors?

  3. John J Flanagan2 years ago

    “Legal” or not, gay marriage is sinful, immoral, unnatural. We are not obligated to acknowledge or accept human laws which are contrary to our Christian faith and convictions. The fact that the United States has declined morally, and now many people encourage, promote, and accept deviant sex as normal merely shows how dark and wicked we as a nation have become. I was once a Marine and a combat veteran. I was once patriotic and proud of this land. I am no longer proud of this country, but I will speak out against gay marriage, abortion, and other issues as I always have in the past. Silence is never an option.

    1. Derek Williams2 years ago

      Thank you for your service, and for what you have done to protect your country. I wish to take issue that your religious view is the only right one. People generally shop for the designer religion that most closely fits their tastes, and their prejudices, so if your religion hates what you are, you don’t need to tolerate them for a second longer. I was born a homosexual and know better than you whether it was a decision I made or not. I knew I was attracted solely to males before I even knew what sex was. You are not gay so you have no experience of what it is like to be me.

      There are over 41,000 denominations of monotheistic Christianity in the world today, with hundreds of new ones forming every month as tax dodges. There is fundamental and oppositional disagreement amongst these religions on many issues, like the biblical rightness or wrongness of women’s ordination, divorce, and birth control, let alone homosexuality. Thus, there is no single Christian religion, nor any Christian spokesperson who can say authoritatively on behalf of all Christians exactly whether these are right or wrong.

      Each religion makes its own god. The Catholic God condemns birth control, women’s ordination and divorce, yet the Anglican God was no problem with family planning or female clergy, and was founded by divorcee King Henry VIII. There is no rational way that these two disagreeing gods can be one and the same entity. Moreover, I can name dozens of Christian religions which teach that homosexuality is a God-given trait, and which welcome LGBT with open arms, hearts and minds as parishioners with full sacraments, including communion, ordination to the clergy, and perform same sex marriage.

      The following Christian religions welcome openly LGBT members to participate and receive sacraments:
      Calvary Chapel
      Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
      Reformed Church in America
      Oriental Orthodox
      Community of Christ
      Moravian Church
      National Baptist Convention*
      New Apostolic
      Unification Church
      United Methodist Church*

      The below also ordain, and bless same sex unions or marriage:
      Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)*
      Church of Scotland*
      Community of Christ
      Church of Denmark
      Evangelical Lutheran Church of America*
      German Lutheran & United Churches in Evangelical Church in Germany
      Metropolitan Community Church
      Church of Norway
      Protestant Church in the Netherlands
      Presbyterian Church (USA)*
      Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
      Old Catholic
      Church of Sweden
      Swiss Reformed Churches in Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches*
      United Church of Canada
      United Church of Christ*
      Unity School of Christianity



  4. Chris Teague2 years ago

    Not sure how you came to that conclusion, given the growth in the timelines provided halfway through this article. Seems like your headline would read the exact opposite.

    Also, I find it interesting that we’re collecting statistics on this at all, seeing as how once it’s made law, the approval of any third party isn’t required for two adults to commit themselves to one another.

    1. Michael Lipka2 years ago


      The headline was intended to mean that the South is currently less supportive of same-sex marriage as compared with other regions.

      Thanks for your comment,
      Michael Lipka

  5. Leslie2 years ago

    How is the “public less enthused”? Compared to the rest of the country? I do not think that is a measure of “enthusiasm.” The South is historically and notoriously opposed to human rights.

    (Marriage for gay couples arrived. “Gay” marriage does not exist. Neither does “Straight” marriage.)

  6. GaybyGod2 years ago

    Praise God, the shadow of fear, hate, discrimination and condemnation is being lifted from the South. They are discovering that the very LGBT people they crucify, are their OWN children, grandchildren, family and friends, that God created different, for God’s reasons.

  7. Michael Bankson2 years ago

    They pretty much made it a issue by limiting the Civil Rights of others, which some tend to do in the South.

    1. Steve2 years ago

      Amen! Praise God, the shadow of fear, hate, discrimination and condemnation is being lifted from the South. They are discovering that the very LGBT people they crucify, are their OWN children, grandchildren, family and friends, that God created different, for God’s reasons.

  8. Dorothy Wagar2 years ago

    Where is New York?

    1. Leslie2 years ago

      Try Google maps.

    2. Michael2 years ago

      “Middle Atlantic.” On the second image it has it listed as “MY” which may be throwing you off.

  9. Gary B2 years ago

    Legalizing same-sex marriage is causing me to lose respect for the government. Loss of respect means loss of support.

    1. Tyler2 years ago

      Marriage Equality in this case is being legalized by the judicial branch of the government, which is essentially responsible for upholding your constitution. This branch of government has always been at odds with the South, who have always had a very different view of things, which have caused multiple attempts to separate, and even a civil war in the past. Recognizing history, one may realize that the south is perhaps not the best moral compass for your country, as the fight to abolish slavery has taught us.

      This said, if after all this, you still perceive marriage equality to be an issue worthy of contention, then perhaps it is not simply the government you are losing respect for, but your entire country and its founding principles as well.

    2. Michael Bankson2 years ago

      So, you have no respect fot the Constitution?