Political Animal


May 20, 2011 9:30 AM Most Americans support marriage equality

By Steve Benen

It must be frustrating for the right to realize that they’re losing the fight over marriage equality, and reversing the tide is pretty much impossible.

For the first time in Gallup’s tracking of the issue, a majority of Americans (53%) believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages. […]

This year’s nine-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured over this time period. Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in 1996, with 27% in favor. By 2004, support had risen to 42% and, despite some fluctuations from year to year, stayed at roughly that level through last year.

There are, not surprisingly, partisan differences. Self-identified Republicans are no more accepting of marriage equality than they were last year, but support among Democrats and independents is growing quickly. At this point, the policy enjoys support from 69% of Republicans Democrats, 59% of independents, and 28% of Republicans.

The age differences are even more striking. Americans under 50 tend to strongly favor marriage equality, while those 50 and over do not. That, too, is bad news for the right, since it suggests it’s only a matter of time before the older generation passes and the position becomes a national consensus.

The larger trend is hard to miss:

What’s more, it’s not just Gallup — two other recent national polls showed most Americans support legal same-sex marriages.

I don’t imagine we’ll ever see 100% unanimity on this question. There’s probably still a tiny percentage of the population that still opposes people of different races or different religions from marrying, too.

But even the most radically anti-gay conservative has to realize that equality is inevitable. As the arc of history continues to bend toward justice, most of the country now believes two consenting adults should be legally permitted to get married if they want to. It’s exceptionally unlikely that trend will ever reverse — civil-rights trajectories simply never move that way. Society becomes less prejudiced, less hateful, and less bigoted over time.

And there’s not much the right can do about it.

To be sure, I don’t really expect conservatives to just throw in the towel — they have too much invested in this — but (a) winning elections by attacking gays is going to be a lot more difficult going forward; and (b) we can safely say marriage equality is only a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on May 20, 2011 9:35 AM:

    They're here!

    They're queer!

    Get used to it!!!

    And why don't some of you take this time to come out of the closet?
    You'll feel better.

  • Decatur Dem on May 20, 2011 9:37 AM:

    In your 2nd main paragraph, "policy enjoys support from 69% of Republicans" should read "69% of Democrats"

  • TR on May 20, 2011 9:44 AM:

    There’s probably still a tiny percentage of the population that still opposes people of different races or different religions from marrying, too.

    Not tiny. What was that recent poll of Mississippi Republicans? Something like 25% of them oppose interracial marriage?

    Bigots will always be with us. We just can't let them hold the rest of us back.

  • Ron Byers on May 20, 2011 9:46 AM:

    The age demographic is hard to ignore. Youth will be served. I wonder if Republicans ever muse about their demographic difficulties over a snifter of brandy.

  • Rochester on May 20, 2011 9:47 AM:

    No disagreement... but isn't this a re-post?

  • Eeyore on May 20, 2011 10:04 AM:

    My own family shows how society changed. In 1973 when my Dad found out I was gay he shuttled me off to a shrink to get me straightened out. In 2011 on the eve of my same sex wedding Dad (now 93 years old) called me in tears of joy to tell us how proud he was, and that we had "the best and most blessed marriage of any of the kids in the family".

    Equality is only a matter of time.

  • Jerry Elsea on May 20, 2011 10:11 AM:

    Not only will attacking gays be more difficult going forward, so will begrudging immigration rights to those whose forebears weren't from Northern Europe. Another toughie will be insisting that the poor are lazy even as the situationally poor join the ranks of the generationally poor (whose poverty defies ill-willed stereotyping). Also increasingly difficult will be continuing to deny the effects of global climate change. The next candidate for extinction is the claim that raising revenue via taxation isn't the highway out of recession.

    The list goes on. Yet the GOP continues its weird march to oblivion. Living in the moment . . . it's good enough for your dog and my cat.

  • Brock on May 20, 2011 10:26 AM:

    "There’s probably still a tiny percentage of the population that still opposes people of different races or different religions from marrying, too."

    Tiny? According to a recent poll of Mississippi Republicans, 46% of them oppose interracial marriage.

  • jrosen on May 20, 2011 10:53 AM:

    I've been around a long time (70+ years) and I like to track public perceptions and attitudes by noting changes in popular entertainment over time. I think it gives a gut "feel" for the way things are going and also may actually sway that movement (Archie Bunker not only gave us an "Architype" bigot, but I think showed a younger generation how ultimately self-defeating Archie's bigotry was).

    When "Star Trek" first appeared in the mid 60's, Captain Kirk of the Enterprise was a white, young, shoot-first type male (that the actor was Jewish was not evident). The next version TNG had a captain with a French name, a British accent, and a bald head. In DSN the Captain was a black man (although when he had a love interest, the woman was also black, still in the 90's!), and Voyager's Captain was a woman. (Villains also show some evolution: James Bond fought first Russians, then Chinese, then stateless criminal anarchists and finally wealthy sociopaths) There was some devolution in Star Trek with "Enterprise" but that series was altogether inferior(Scott Bakula can do some things but this was not one of them, although Jolene Blalock almost made up for him) and didn't really catch on.

    Unfortunately, we also have "Jersey Shore" which bodes ill for our future, but then,. what doesn't? Gays may finally reach social equality but I hope they get to enjoy it before the crypto-fascists of the Tea Party pull it all down around us.

  • oddjob on May 20, 2011 11:19 AM:

    The demographics of this have been apparent since sometime back in the 1990's. The younger the age cohort the more strongly in favor of marriage equality, and the proportion in favor of marriage equality does not lessen as any given cohort ages.

    If you were watching (& I was) then you have known for fifteen years or so that this day was coming, no matter what the haters wanted.


    (PS: I also don't doubt that there are those, possibly including Justice Scalia, who are still opposed to the early 1960's Supreme Court verdict in Griswold v. Connecticut that struck down state laws criminalizing married couples' use of contraceptives.)

  • JS on May 20, 2011 11:55 AM:

    Obviously, the ceiling for marriage equality is 73%.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on May 20, 2011 1:04 PM:

    That, too, is bad news for the right, since it suggests it�s only a matter of time before the older generation passes and the position becomes a national consensus.

    Gays are just one of the boogeyman du jour for a party which relies almost exclusively on creating boogeymen to secure votes from a population too stupid / and or uninvolved to realize the GOP exists for the top 5% of income earners only.

    Losing one boogidah-boogidah will merely mean the GOP has to create a new boogeyman the upcoming generation can identify with and the process will begin anew. The real problem for the GOP is a young generation that tolerates not only gays, but blacks and Hispanics, while simultaneously not-tolerating hypocrites.

  • stinger on May 20, 2011 1:49 PM:

    Eeyore, congratulations! If you announced your wedding earlier (here in the Political Animal comments section), I missed it. I once hoped you'd come to Iowa for the ceremony, but of course that didn't make sense after it became available to you closer to home.

    Great news about your dad coming around to acceptance, even joy and pride, too. People can change!

    P.S. Please lose the captcha.

  • dj spellchecka on May 20, 2011 2:34 PM:


    The increase since last year came exclusively among political independents and Democrats. Republicans' views did not change.

    Majorities of moderates [65%] and liberals [78%] support gay marriage, as they did last year, contrasted with 28% of conservatives.