May 12, 2016

Support steady for same-sex marriage and acceptance of homosexuality

Support for same-sex marriage holds steady after 2015 Supreme Court rulingNearly a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that determined same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry, a decision that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. While the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage remain unchanged from a year ago, they have changed dramatically over the past two decades.

Now, just over half of Americans (55%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 37% remain opposed, according to Pew Research Center’s March poll. A decade ago, the balance of opinion was reversed: 55% were opposed, while 35% were in favor.

(Interactive: See a slideshow illustrating changing attitudes on same-sex marriage.) 

Conservative Republicans remain broadly opposed to same-sex marriageAnd as was the case a year ago, there remains a substantial divide between partisans on the issue. Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to favor gay marriage (70% vs. 33%).

Yet there are key differences within the two parties as well. Among Republicans, 71% of conservative Republicans oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, more than twice the share of GOP moderates and liberals (34%). A 55% majority of moderate and liberal Republicans favor allowing same-sex marriage.

Within the GOP, these ideological differences also are notable across voters’ primary preferences for the party’s 2016 presidential nominee. About half (52%) of GOP voters who back Donald Trump (now the party’s presumptive nominee) say they oppose same-sex marriage, compared with 70% who preferred Ted Cruz and just 37% who backed John Kasich.

Democrats across the board are supportive of gay marriage (70% favor, 24% oppose), with slight differences by ideology and candidate preference. Liberal Democrats overwhelmingly support gay marriage (84%), compared with a smaller majority of their conservative and moderate counterparts (59% favor). And a wide 83% majority of Bernie Sanders supporters are supportive of gays and lesbians marrying legally (just 15% are opposed), compared with a smaller majority of Hillary Clinton supporters (68%).

Younger, more educated, less religious more likely to support gay marriageViews on gay marriage also vary by age, education and religious affiliation.

The March survey finds a familiar pattern in views of same-sex marriage across age categories: People younger than 30 are most supportive (73%), followed by those who are ages 30 to 49 (61%), those 50 to 64 (47%) and, finally, those 65 and older (38%).

Among those with higher levels of education, there is widespread support. A large majority of the public with at least a college degree (68%) say same-sex marriage should be legal. By contrast, those with a high school degree or less education are split on the issue: While 45% favor same-sex marriage, 46% are opposed.

Views also differ across religious groups, as well as by frequency of religious service attendance. White evangelical Protestants are far more likely to oppose than to favor same-sex marriage (68% vs. 27%). By contrast, most white mainline Protestants (64%) and Catholics (58%) favor gay marriage. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 80% favor same-sex marriage, while just 12% are opposed.

Views of societal acceptance of homosexuality

Changing views among religious groups on whether homosexuality should be acceptedToday, a 63% majority say homosexuality should be accepted by society, a share that also has grown over the past few decades. Fewer (28%) say homosexuality should be discouraged. But there are differences on the issue among religious and partisan groups.

Some religious groups have become more accepting of homosexuality over time while others remain steady. Ten years ago, a 77% majority of those unaffiliated with a religion said homosexuality should be accepted by society, and still today fully 80% say this.

Protestants overall are more likely than they were 10 years ago to say homosexuality should be accepted by society (52% now vs. 38% then). However, Protestant groups continue to have different views of this issue. Among white evangelical Protestants, a third (34%) say homosexuality should be accepted by society, a share that has increased 12 percentage points from 2006. And half of black Protestants now think that homosexuality should be accepted by society, up just slightly from 44% a decade ago.

By contrast, a large majority of white mainline Protestants hold the view that homosexuality should be accepted by society, and this share also has increased over time: Fully three-quarters say this now (76%), compared with 53% in 2006.

Two-thirds of Catholics now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 22% who say it should be discouraged. Views among Catholics have shifted modestly over the past decade: The share that says homosexuality should be accepted is up 8 points from 2006 (58% said accepted then, 31% discouraged).

Increasing shares in both parties say homosexuality should be acceptedWhen it comes to differences among partisans on whether homosexuality should be accepted by society, there has been a persistent 26-point gap between Republicans and Democrats over the course of a decade.

About three-quarters of Democrats (74%) hold the view that homosexuality should be accepted, up from 59% in 2006. Though slightly fewer independents say the same, they have closely mirrored Democrats on this question over the past decade. Today, two-thirds of independents say homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 25% say it should be discouraged.

Over the past year, declining share of conservative Republicans say homosexuality should be discouragedJust about half of Republicans (48%) now say homosexuality should be accepted, a number that has ticked up 15 points from its low 10 years ago. Republicans today are somewhat more likely than they were a year ago to say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Up until a year ago, a majority of Republicans thought homosexuality should be discouraged by society, but views have since become more mixed. While 41% of Republicans now say homosexuality should be discouraged, 48% think it should be accepted by society.

Conservative Republicans remain more likely to say homosexuality should be discouraged than say it should be accepted, but just about half say this today (49%) compared with 63% in May 2015.

By contrast, seven-in-ten moderate and liberal Republicans now say homosexuality should be accepted (71%), which is little changed since May 2015.

Topics: Religion and Government, U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity

  1. Photo of Hannah Fingerhut

    is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.


  1. John S Wren1 year ago

    Two aspects to this issue, private behavior and public affirmation. My hunch is that the 71% of conservatives you highlight at the top of your chart are thinking of this glorification when they say they object because of the beliefs that the law educates and that laws are based on more than logic, so what you may be measuring is not so much attitudes towards behavior but attitudes towards the role of and nature of the law.

  2. Anonymous1 year ago

    Two men can’t start a family because it’s biologically impossible. Here are 10 good reasons why same-sex “marriage” is not really marriage. Brush up on what you know.…

    Good read. Logical.

    1. Keenan Wilkie1 year ago

      The “reasons” listed rely upon religious assumptions, which makes them inherently illogical. An appeal to an assumed religious belief is the antithesis of logic.

    2. Matthew Vince1 year ago

      If it’s biologically impossible than how are they able to raise children? I guess you’re opposed to single parent adoption then, right?

      1. Dave Jannsen1 year ago

        Matt – you’re absolutely right. Speaking as a practicing Catholic, and former seminarian for a year: the natural law argument is ridiculous. Pope Francis said we should focus on the poor, and policy that affects them- like by opposing tax cuts for the rich instead of abortion and gay marriage. The issue of “natural law” – is that contraception is “unnatural” and everything including sexual habits must fulfill the natural purpose of the genitals. Well, this idea is based on Thomas Aquinas’s ideas from the 14th century, before people factored in PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE and recognized that sexuality isn’t just about “natural law” it’s also about love to unite two people. Laws in a secular state shouldn’t favor relationships; but beyond this, natural law in the Catholic religious context is fuels our opposition to contraception, and gay marriage. I believe we will see the “development of doctrine” AKA CHANGES that recognize that natural law is not the be all and end all: and gay marriage and contraception will be permitted by Catholics- DOWN THE ROAD.

  3. Anonymous1 year ago

    Unfortunately Every generation has chosen a group of people to hate.
    Don’t trust “those people”, they are lazy and shiftless.
    Don’t trust “those people”, they will cheat you in business.
    Don’t trust “those people”, they are all immoral.
    Being gay is a gift from God. A gift that can be used or abused. God brought my loving husband into my life 28 years ago, and I thank God for this gift every day.
    Signed…Your gay brother in Christ.

  4. Anonymous1 year ago

    The question is, and always has been, “Is change possible?” Are there individuals who have, through counseling, changed their sexual orientation? The simple answer is, “Yes.” They decided for their own reasons to change. Do they have the right to self-determination? The simple answer again is, “yes.”

    1. Ross Clark1 year ago

      Is this comment a joke? Being gay is no more a choice than someone being straight is. Valid studies have shown gay to straight conversion therapies do not work. All of the major psychological associations (APA, AMA, etc.) have discredited conversion therapies and labeled them potentially harmful. Even Spitzer apologized for his flawed study claiming success. Scientists are not sure what exact role genetics, biology, and environmental factors play, but all major, valid scientific studies (and the vast majority of gay people themselves) confirm that being gay is not a choice. Even the Catholic Church acknowledges this. Do some research using legitimate scientific sites and valid sources. Stop spreading this ridiculous lie.

    2. Ross Clark1 year ago

      Is this comment a joke? Being gay is not a choice any more than being straight is. This is common knowledge in the scientific community and, more importantly, among the vast majority of gay people themselves! Gay conversion therapy is discredited by the major psychological associations (APA, AMA, etc). It has failed for the majority of participants and is even considered potentially harmful. While science is still investigating the exact role that genetics, biology, and environmental factors play, all the major and valid scientific organizations agree that sexuality is not a choice. Even the Catholic Church acknowledges it is not a choice. Do some valid research from credible sources… but I have a feeling you know the truth and are just spreading lies.

    3. Anthony Medel1 year ago

      “Reparative therapy” has been denounced by every reputable mental health agency in this country because of the damage it causes gay people.

      Exodus International, formerly the world’s largest “ex-gay” ministry, shuttered it doors recently, apologizing to the gay community for the failures of its methods. Even when they were in business, they admitted that suppression, not true change, was the best they could hope for.

  5. Moses Hathway1 year ago

    Funny how people’s decision decides whether I should follow my heart or now. If I am born gay and if majority doesn’t like that, I deserve to die? If a person was born black and majority didn’t like that, does that mean he should kill himself and he won’t be given equal rights? Stop with these disgusting percentages and statistics,we are talking about humans with lives here, not puppets who roll in a society based on what others decide for them about how they should live their lives.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      No one decides for you what path to follow. First, you were not born “gay”, your choice of that life style is up to you just as everyone makes choices everyday; good, bad or sinful. Following a gay life style has nothing to do with race. Your choice, as for all of mankind is to live according to what God says is righteous, Romans 1 & 2, or in conflict with God’s Word. And all miss the mark often, but repentance brings man back to a right relationship with God.

      Yes, when people judge you for your choices they are in violation of Romans1 and 2 also. God is the only one who is righteous to judge you, me or anyone. All who judge others without repentance will be held accountable for judging (playing God). Instead of judgement they should share the Gospel. While all believe they are on the right path, all will die and then comes true righteous judgement that will last for eternity. My prayer is for you to seek after God through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, the only way to a right relationship with God.

      1. Darlene Bryant1 year ago

        Were you born heterosexual?

      2. Anonymous1 year ago

        There’s no God, grow up, and I’m gay and we don’t choose to be gay at all, I’m glad America is overcoming it’s homophobic pass, here in Brazil things are improving a bit too, we have gay marriage here since 2013, even though there’s a large percentage of evangelicals bigots against it.

        1. Alan Gragnani1 year ago

          The problem with this issue is it’s purpose is to “polarize” the Democrats and Republicans. It’s a talking point, but it sole intent, is getting the vote. Obama, HRC and many others, were on the opposite side of this issue several years ago. Now that it is not PC, they move to a new position. The new issue is transgender, again, PC and the vote. They really don’t believe in what they say, unless it benefits them in their election cycle. If individuals believe in their position, that does not make them a bigot or racist, but a free thinking individual exercising their rights.

      3. Anthony Medel1 year ago

        Being gay is every bit as innate as being straight. When did you choose to be straight?

        We live in a country that values freedom of choice. Your religion is a matter of choice. You aren’t born a Christian. It makes absolutely no difference if something is a choice or not. But if you actually take gay people at their word for what they experience, you’d understand that being gay is no different from being left-handed or good at math.

        1. Anonymous1 year ago

          Don’t try to justify their actions. People choosing to commit a crime is the same as deciding who you want to have sex with. It is a choice.

  6. Ken Martin1 year ago

    I’d be interested in knowing the percentages for Catholics who attend religious services weekly or more.

    1. John Bladel1 year ago

      Pew released a large and interesting study on “Catholics and Family Life” in September 2015:…

      As you probably guessed, the majority of Catholics who attend mass weekly consider “homosexual behavior” to be sinful, whereas most “less observant” Catholics do not consider gay behavior to be sinful. As a practicing cradle Catholic, I found the full PDF report worth reading.