Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Support for Same Sex Marriage Grows as More Americans Change their Views

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on two potentially ground-breaking same-sex marriage cases. On March 26, the court will hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure approved in 2008 that bans same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the court hears a challenge to the defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. (See a Pew Research Center analysis of the cases).

The high court is taking up the issue at a time when public support for same-sex marriage has risen significantly, making it among the largest changes in opinion on any policy matter over the past decade.

A large part of the reason for the increased support for same-sex marriage is generational change: the arrival of a large cohort of young adults — the Millennial generation — who are far more open to gay rights than older generations.

But equally important is that 14% of all Americans – and 28% of gay marriage supporters – say they have changed their minds on this issue in favor of gay marriage, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted this month.

To better understand the changes, the survey asked respondents why their views had changed. Roughly a third (32%) said it is because they know someone – a friend, family member or other acquaintance – who is homosexual. A quarter (25%) say that their personal views have changed as they have thought about the issue or simply because they have grown older. (View all of the verbatim responses among those who said they changed their mind on the issue).

About one-in-five (18%) say they changed their minds to support gay marriage because the world has changed and that this kind of shift is inevitable. The same percentage (18%) say they changed their minds because they think people should be free to choose what makes them happy and that they no longer think the government should be involved in people’s personal lives in this way. Read more