Public acceptance of same-sex marriage has grown substantially since gay marriage was first legalized anywhere in the US, and the increased support for same-sex marriage is among the largest changes in public opinion on any policy issue over the past decade. The Pew Research Center released a report Wednesday illustrating how much support for gay marriage has grown among all age groups. Over the course of the past ten years, 28 percent of gay marriage supporters say they have changed their minds in favor of the issue.
A decade ago, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Polling conducted in 2003 showed that most Americans, a solid 58 percent, opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. Only a third of Americans felt that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. Now many more states have followed suit, and public opinion has changed drastically in the process.
The Millennial generation, which consists of all adults born after 1980, is far more supportive of gay rights than any previous generation. A staggering 70 percent of people aged 18 to 32 favor same-sex marriage. In 2003, only 51 percent of Millennials supported same-sex marriage, though this number still remained around 20 points higher than the national average. Millennials carry more weight now. In 2003, Millennials made up only 9 percent of the adult population. Now, Millennials make up 27 percent.
The country is now split in favor of the same-sex marriage, with 49 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed. A change in attitude has swept across the country. Fourteen percent of all Americans say they have changed their minds in favor of the issue, whereas only two percent have changed their minds against the issue. The overwhelming majority of those who oppose same-sex marriage are people who have always done so, and their numbers are shrinking.
Older Americans are the most rigidly opposed to the issue, yet support is growing even within this generation. Among those born between 1928 and 1945, support has only grown from 17 percent to 31 percent. Their opinions shifted more than baby boomers, whose acceptance grew marginally from 33 percent to 38 percent. And Generation X? 41 percent to 49 percent.
Peoples’ minds have changed for all sorts of reasons. The most prevalent reason given was knowing someone that is gay, whether that be a friend, family member, or just an acquaintance. A quarter of those whose personal views have changed said they simply gave the issue more thought or have grew more accepting with age. Nearly a fifth attributed their new views to a changing world and the believe that the current shift is inevitable. An equal percentage said they now think people should be free to choose what makes them happy, and the government should no longer get involved.
Americans are less afraid of gay marriage than they used to be. In 2003, 56 percent of Americans felt that permitting gay marriage would undermine the traditional American family. Now that number is 46 percent. In 2003, 54 percent felt that same-sex couples could be just as good parents as heterosexual couples. Now that number is 64 percent. While 56 percent of Americans still say that same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs, that number has dropped from 62 percent ten years ago. A full two-thirds of Americans now support granting same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, with even a third of those opposed to same-sex marriage saying gay couples should still have the same rights.