Huge shifts in public opinion in favor of equal rights for gays

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) recently released the results of a new survey showing that public support for same-sex marriage has jumped by 21 points from 2003. It is now favored by a 53%-41% majority, compared to the earlier 32%-69% minority. All parts of the country now have majority support except for the South where opinions are evenly divided.

But when one looks at the disaggregated data, there is an interesting wrinkle when it comes to correlations with party affiliation.

Political divisions on the issue of same-sex marriage have widened over time. The gap in support for same-sex marriage between Democrats and Republicans has increased from 21 percentage points in 2003 to 30 points today. In 2003, roughly 4-in-10 Democrats (39%) and political independents (39%) favored same-sex marriage, compared to 18% of Republicans. Currently, nearly two-thirds (64%) of Democrats and nearly 6-in-10 (57%) independents support same-sex marriage, compared to only 34% of Republicans. More than 6-in-10 (62%) Republicans oppose same-sex marriage.

There is, unsurprisingly, also a strong generational swing towards favoring same-sex marriage even among groups that have an overall unfavorable view

  • “Half (50%) of Millennial Republicans [ages 18 to 33] favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a view shared by only 18% of Republicans who are members of the Silent Generation [ages 68 and older].
  • Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) black Millennials say gay and lesbian people should be allowed to legally marry, compared to only 39% of black Americans overall.
  • White evangelical Protestant Millennials are more than twice as likely to favor same- sex marriage as the oldest generation of white evangelical Protestants (43% vs. 19%).”

Unlike political views that can shift over time, so that young liberals may end up as older conservatives and vice versa due to changes in their personal circumstances, I doubt that that is true for attitudes about gays. I just cannot see what might cause someone who is accepting of gays when young to change as they get older unless they experience some sort of dramatic religious conversion.

This has to be of great concern to the Republican party. At some point, they have to grit their teeth and shift course and accept equal rights for gays if they are to be not doomed to minority status forever. But when they do, they will face howls of protest from their current base constituency. (As a matter of curiosity, what wiseacre decided to give the people aged 68 and up, a highly vociferous group, the name Silent Generation?)

Also, members of the LGBT community are nearly twice as likely (37%) to say they are unaffiliated with religion than the population as a whole (21%). 58% of Americans feel that religion is alienating people by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.

That there is a correlation between being disaffiliated with religion and support for LGBT equal rights is not surprising. One would have thought that the causal relation would have largely been that being non-religious (for whatever reason) made one more accepting of gay people because anti-gay attitudes are largely rooted in religion. But it may well be that there is a significant causal trend the other way too, that people are turning off religion because they cannot stomach the attitudes of their religious institutions.


  1. corwyn says

    At some point, they have to grit their teeth and shift course and accept equal rights for gays if they are to be not doomed to minority status forever.

    It seems more likely that they will just concede the battle (quietly). And then in 20 years or so, claim that they were for it the whole time.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Just to make sure that we are clear on this, the conservative evangelicals’ problem isn’t just that their stand against equality and marriage rights is a minority postition. Their problem is that they are quite simply wrong on this issue. If they had happened to choose the correct side, then their insistance on taking the ethical stand despite the majority pressures would be laudable.

    What we are seeing is a politically influential group destroying its own credibility by taking the ethically wrong position and maintaining it despite the majority of the rest of the population realizing what the ethically correct position really is and taking it.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    The most interesting information in that poll, for me, was the change in acceptance of equal rights as a function of religious denomination. Turns out that majorities of most religious groups are (sometimes quite strongly) in favor of equal rights. The evangelicals who want a biblical definition of marriage, for instance, are not just at odds with secular America, but with the vast majority of the Christians, in whose name they pretend to speak.

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    As a matter of curiosity, what wiseacre decided to give the people aged 68 and up, a highly vociferous group, the name Silent Generation?

    What matters is not how old they are now, but rather that they were born between 1925 and 1942. They were children during the Great Depression and World War II, and came of age in the days of HUAC and the Korean War. According to Wikipedia, the term was first applied to that generation by Time magazine in 1951. I first heard the term in the early 1990’s, courtesy of Strauss and Howe.

    The Silent didn’t stay silent, of course, since they included the people who brought us the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and the Free Speech Movement of the 1960’s and the consumer movement of the 1970’s. I suspect that more than a few founders and early leaders of the New Age, the Jesus People, and Evangelical Christianity were also Silent, but I haven’t looked into this. (Boomers were their biggest customers, and got more media attention.)

    Then again, the Silent have tended to be overshadowed by the G.I. Generation before them and the Boomers who followed. Interestingly, they are the only generation in more than two centuries to not have held the Presidency (unless you count Dick Cheney).

  5. Seth says

    I think the ‘Silent Generation’ is a way of referencing the generation before the Baby Boomers. Tom Brokaw called them the ‘Greatest Generation’ because of their involvement with WWII, but this author’s term is probably reflective of the horrible experiences of WWI on *its* veterans and their children.

    Republicans and Democrats used to be united in opposing miscegenation, and now it’s only a solid core of Republicans who reliably oppose it. I expect that the party will cling to its bigotry and its guns and its religion until it turns into a pariah organisation. Just as Christopher Hitchens said that it’s very difficult to be a little bit heretical, I’d say it’s also very difficult to be a little bit fundamentalist.

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