Gay marriage has been a contentious issue for decades now, especially among more conservative, religious groups, but recently there has been an important shift in public opinion. According to a recent poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, more than half of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should have the right to legally marry. In a similar survey, CNN/Opinion Research found that 51% of respondents said that same-sex marriages should be legal.
Even though the opposition to gay marriage is more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, there has been a decline in opposition to gay marriage among these groups in the last few years, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Other more traditionally conservative groups such as Catholics and moderates, adults in their 30’s and 40’s, and men, have shown increasing support for the issue in recent years. Furthermore, the generational/gender disparity remains in tact, as 60% of Americans under the age of 50 still support gay marriage, but only four in ten of those individuals over 50 also support same-sex marriage. A recent CNN/Opinion Research survey found that more than half of men are against the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 57% of women are in favor of it.
Furthermore, a recent Gallup Poll found that 56% of people say that they believe that gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable, which is the highest percentage it’s been since the question was first asked in 2001. Yet, when it comes to the origins of same-sex orientation, there is an almost even split among Americans. 42% say that being a lesbian or gay is “due to factors such as an upbringing and environment,” whereas 40% believe that it is “something a person is born with.” The trend over time demonstrates that since 1978 the majority of Americans (56%) believed that homosexuality was a product of one’s environment. Throughout the years, however, there has been a significant shift in the beliefs around the origins of homosexuality, and now in 2011 there is an almost even division among Americans regarding the nature vs. nurture argument.
However, due to a particularly polarizing political climate surrounding the issue, the fight for the legalization of gay marriage is far from over. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in five states and the District of Columbia since 2003, but many other states still prohibit it. Last February, the Obama administration said that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is a 1996 law banning federal recognition of gay marriages (please see ABC News/Washington Post Poll for more info). Therefore, although some states recognize the legalization of same-sex marriage, there is still important work to be done.
Despite some remnant opposition, this upward trend in support of gay marriage reveals some major shifts in the hearts and minds of Americans, as compared to several years ago. With this kind of progressive thinking in conjunction with legal action, we may be one step closer in achieving equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.