June 11, 2013

Gay Marriage: Key Data Points from Pew Research

The rise in support for same-sex marriage over the past decade is among the largest changes in opinion on any policy issue over this time period.


During our polling so far this year, an average of 50% of Americans support the right of gays and lesbians to marry legally. In our most recent survey, conducted in May 2013, that number edged up to 51% for the first time. (The chart above combines data from two 2013 polls). A slideshow that tracks attitudes towards gay marriage since 2001, including breakdowns by religion, generation and political party, can be viewed here.

Although the public remains divided, both supporters and opponents now believe that legal recognition of gay marriage is “inevitable.”

The rising sense of inevitability is most notable among some of the groups that tend to be the least supportive of gay marriage itself, according to our May 2013 survey. The share of Republicans who see gay marriage as inevitable rose from 47% to 73% over the past nine years. The same pattern holds along religious lines: the share of white evangelical Protestants who see gay marriage as inevitable rose from 49% to 70%.

More people today have gay or lesbian acquaintances, which is associated with acceptance of homosexuality and support for gay marriage.

Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (87%) personally know someone who is gay or lesbian (up from 61% in 1993), according to the May 2013 survey. About half (49%) say a close family member or one of their closest friends is gay or lesbian. About a quarter (23%) say they know a lot of people who are gay or lesbian, and 31% know a gay or lesbian person who is raising children.

The public’s view of gay men and lesbians has grown significantly more favorable.

The May 2013 survey finds large changes over the past decade in favorable opinions of gay men and lesbians. Ten years ago, 37% viewed gay men favorably, while 51% viewed them unfavorably; 39% had a favorable impression of lesbian women while 48% had an unfavorable opinion. Today, by a 55% to 32% margin, more have a favorable than unfavorable opinion of gay men. And about twice as many view lesbian women favorably (58%) than unfavorably (29%).

A significant majority of the public say same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexuals.

As support for same-sex marriage has increased, so too has the percentage favoring legal agreements for gays and lesbians that would give them many of the same rights as married couples. In the May 2013 survey, 67% favor gays and lesbians being allowed to enter legal agreements that would give them many of the rights of married couples, while just 28% are opposed. Support for legal agreements crossed the 50% threshold in 2005, but a decade ago, opinion was evenly divided (46% favor, 47% oppose).

Much of the shift in support of same-sex marriage is attributable to the arrival of a large cohort of young adults – the Millennial generation – who are far more open to gay rights than previous generations.

The increase in support for same-sex marriage fueled by generational trends has been accompanied by the number of Americans who say they have changed their minds on the issue, according to our March poll.

In 2003, just 17% of those in the Silent generation – born between 1928 and 1945 – favored same-sex marriage; today 31% do, according to a March 2013 survey. Overall, 28% of same-sex marriage proponents — representing 14% of all adults — say their views on same-sex marriage have changed.

The reason cited the most for changing views of same-sex marriage was having friends, family or acquaintances who are gay or lesbian.

Click on the image below to go to an interactive graphic that lets you sample responses from those who were surveyed.

Attitudes vary widely among religious groups.

Surveys conducted during 2012 found wide regional differences on the issue.

Americans have become more accepting of same-sex couples as parents.

Since 2007, the percentage saying more gays and lesbians raising children is a good thing has nearly doubled, from 11% to 21%, according to a survey conducted in March-April 2013. About four-in-ten (41%) say more gays and lesbians raising children does not make much difference.  Slightly more than a third (35%) view this as a negative trend for society.

Index to other Key Data Point fact sheets