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Support for marriage equality hits record high, new study finds

Americans are becoming more supportive of marriage equality, according to a new report.

Support continues to trend upward, with 47% of Americans in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry and 43% opposed. The new national study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press was conducted April 4-15 and released on Thursday.

A Pew study in 2008 showed that 39% were in favor and 51% were opposed, so the swing in opinion has been a sea change. A 2004 study revealed that 31% were in favor and 60% were opposed.

Moreover, for the first time in a Pew Research Center survey there is as much strong support as strong opposition to gay marriage. In the current survey, 22% say they strongly support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally; an identical percentage (22%) strongly opposes gay marriage. In 2008, there was about twice as much strong opposition to as strong support for gay marriage (30% vs. 14%).

In 2004, when the issue was widely thought to have increased turnout among socially conservative voters in several key states, 36% strongly opposed gay marriage while just 11% strongly favored it. (For more, see Andrew Kohut’s piece in the New York Times on the changing politics of gay marriage, “The Electorate Changes and Politics Follow,” April 16, 2012.)

Republican voters are more likely than Democrats to view gay marriage as very important. Among Republicans, 36% of Republicans say that gay marriage is very important; 27% of Democrats agree. However, the percentage of Republicans rating gay marriage as very important has declined by 13 points since 2004.

“An increasing number of Americans support equality for LGBT people on a wide array of issues, from marriage equality to non-discrimination,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said. “These data reinforce the message we’re hearing over and over again as we approach the 2012 elections: being anti-LGBT is not a winning position for any candidate. As more and more Americans hear the personal stories of their LGBT family members and friends, they’re coming to the conclusion that we deserve the same rights, benefits, and protections that everyone else receives.”

Decreasing opposition to gay marriage

In the last two presidential campaigns, there was far more opposition than support for gay marriage. But today, opinions are divided and there is as much strong support as strong opposition to gay marriage (22% each). (For a visual display of changes in attitudes toward gay marriage across various groups since 2001, see “Graphics Slideshow: Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage,” Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life).

Since 2004, there has been a broad-based decline in opposition – including strong opposition –to gay marriage. In 2004, Americans younger than 30 were divided (48% opposed, 45% favored). Today, young people favor gay marriage by more than two-to-one (65% to 30%).

Opposition has declined by the same percentage – 18 points – among those 65 and older; still, a majority (56%) of this group continues to oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. Strong opposition has declined 18 points since 2004 among those 65 and older (from 46% to 28%) and 14 points among those younger than 30 (from 28% to 14%).

In the current survey, majorities of Democrats (59%) and independents (52%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. In 2008, Democrats favored gay marriage by 50% to 42%, while independents were divided (44% favored, 45% opposed). In 2004, pluralities of both groups (50% of Democrats, 53% of independents) opposed gay marriage. Republicans continue to oppose gay marriage by a wide margin (68% to 23%), but Republican opposition has declined by 10 points – and strong opposition by 14 points – since 2004.

White evangelical Protestants remain overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage, and opinion among this group has shown relatively little change since 2004. In the current survey, 78% of white evangelicals oppose gay marriage, with 56% strongly opposed.

Whites, blacks and gay marriage

In 2008, there were sizable differences in opinions about gay marriage among whites and blacks. While whites opposed gay marriage by a modest 51% to 41% margin, blacks opposed gay marriage by more than two-to-one (63% to 26%).

But the gap has narrowed. Since 2008, the proportion of African-Americans favoring gay marriage has increased from 26% to 39%, while opposition has fallen from 63% to 49%.

Support for gay marriage also has increased among whites, though far less dramatically (from 41% in 2008 to 47% in the current survey).

(The Pew study also looked at America's views on gun rights, abortion and birth control, among other issues. To read the full report, click HERE.