Pew Research Reveals Numbers Behind Surge in Support for Marriage Equality


A new research paper from Pew reveals some numbers behind the shift in favor of marriage equality:

The long-term shift in the
public’s views about same-
sex marriage is
unambiguous. Polling
conducted in 2003 found
most Americans (58%)
opposed to allowing gays and
lesbians to marry legally, and
just a third (33%) in favor.
The new survey by the Pew
Research Center, conducted
March 13-17, 2013 among
1,501 adults nationwide,
confirms that these figures
have crossed, with 49%
supporting same-sex
marriage, and 44% opposed.

The new survey finds 70% of “Millennials” – born since 1980 and age 18-32 today – in favor of same-sex marriage.
That is far higher than the support among older generations. But two other factors also
make the views of this group significant. Millennial support for same-sex marriage has
grown substantially over the past decade, from 51% in 2003 to 70% today. And
Millennials make up a larger share of the adult population today. In 2003, Millennials
made up just 9% of the adult population. Today, 27% of adults are in the Millennial

Support for same-sex marriage also has
increased among older generations over the
past decade. For example, in 2003, just 17% of
those in the Silent generation – born between
1928 and 1945 – favored same-sex marriage;
today 31% do.

The most commonly cited reason for the change of heart — offered by one in three respondents — is that they know someone who is gay.  Interestingly, that’s the reason Ohio Sen. Rob Portman gave for his decision to come out in support of gay marriage recently; Portman’s son, Will, told his parents two years ago that he is gay.
Other regularly-mentioned reasons for changing opinions on gay marriage include “grown more open/thought about it more” (25 percent), “it’s inevitable” (18 percent) and “everyone is free to choose” (18 percent).

Doc Sweitzer, a Democratic media consultant based in Philadelphia, offered another take on why attitudes on gay marriage have shifted. “Here’s the answer: Television,” Sweitzer wrote in an email to the Fix. “It’s the greatest socializing tool of all time.

Read the full Pew Research paper HERE.


  1. Tom says

    Can anyone explain the drop off in support in all of the older demographics, seemingly in the most recent years? The dips at the end of each line are noticeable and not commented on.

  2. Francis says

    It’s the younger generations, that have grown up knowing LGBT people and having LGBT friends and knowing more about LGBT issues, that are really making it clear that our rights are a priority and pushing change. That’s why this “debate” on our humanity is not going to be a debate in the near future. We’re getting closer to equality every day just by simply existing and watching older people from older generations die off. The older people 40 and under get, the more progressive people in that age bracket will be in comparison to today.

  3. Thomas says

    Television? That guy must be crazy. Television networks have not exactly been bastions of equality, and I’d argue that the predominant message they send is still pretty hetero-normative. No one in my generation became pro-marriage equality because of Will and Grace or Bravo or some other show or after school special. It’s because of coming out. The number of gay people coming out young and then staying in their communities has made them much more visible in the vast majority of middle America.

    As for the down tick in the older generations, I think part of what explains this is that up until a couple years ago people thought the question probably meant “civil unions.” Now that it’s clear we’d have exactly the same thing potentially, some might have become less supportive. I’d be curious to see the question wording too.

  4. Chris says

    @Tom Perhaps the whole Chick-fil-a controversy damaged us? Especially considering how the media totally misrepresented the whole thing, and why we were really angry in the first place. Also maybe all of the anti-gay garbage the GOP was spewing out during the election?

  5. says

    to be fair, Portman “knew gay people” for the many years he was actively anti-gay in politics. he even claimed to have had “gay friends” – he only cared when it became REALLLLY personal.

    and even then, he’s gone from actively-anti gay to passively supportive. two years after his son comes out to him, he makes the big bold statement that he…what? supports gay marriage, but only in a state-by-state way and will NOT be taking any leadership positions on the issue, so as not to “force his opinions on others?”

    how noble – he won’t force his gay kid onto others.

    but there’s validity to the TV thing – more gay on tv means more opened minds, gay and straight. i was able to Come Out in a post-Ellen and current-Will&Grace/QAF time. i was able to see my straight parents enjoy BOTH programs (Mum and her friends liked QAF even more than I did.)

    every little bit has helped.

  6. Francis says

    Seems like that’s been pretty consistent in polls, too, that older generations are actually becoming less accepting or not really moving much towards acceptance.

    The reason for that is resistance to change, and backlash. A world they don’t know, understand, and they can’t handle, is arriving and they don’t like it.

  7. GregV says

    There is a lot of good news in this survey, including the fact that the peole who feel “strongly” about the issue is finally even (22% to 22%) and should from this point on keep tilting ever stronger toward those who strongly favor equality.
    What they call the “Millinials” coincides with exactly the age range of people who were still too young to vote (or be included in surveys of adults) when Ellen came out as gay (as a character and as a celebrity) in 1997. She gave millions of people a gay “friend” and helped make it safer for millions of those people’s “real-life” friends to finally be open and honest. I agree that TV has opened doors to understanding.

    @Thomas: Those little blips up or down don’t necessarily mean anything at all. The little blip down by around 2% is far less than the margin of error for those age groups. The long-term trend lines are very clearly heading upward.

  8. ratbastard says

    TV? I doubt it. ‘Experts’ have a good idea what the real reasons are for the way young people poll, but for whatever reason, at least in this case, they don’t want to publicly acknowledge it.

  9. Derrick from Philly says

    There’s some validity to the TV notion. What’s the most popular show on TV? Modern Family. Who’s the most lovable couple on the show? Need I say more.

  10. Paul R says

    Umm, I wouldn’t fully believe a poll (one way or the other) that terms an entire generation Silent when they’re anything but at the polls.

    They will die, and we will win. But they are not silent.

  11. georgefresh says

    As for the “downward trend” observed in the three older demographics:

    It’s just a single set of data points representing a single poll. Isn’t it strange that three demographics are shown trending down by the same amount at the same time? This looks more like a random fluctuation between samples, not a meaningful trend.

  12. RaleighRob says

    I’m a little surprised Gen X isn’t a touch higher than that. I would hope it’d at least be in the 55% range. It’s probably the older end holding it lower.

  13. Thomas says

    I’m not saying that television hasn’t changed a lot or that the tv pioneers like Ellen aren’t important, but I just can’t see it as the main driver. Really, how many people do you know who are LGBT positive just because of television and not because of personal relationships?

    At least for anyone born before 1980 (the year I was born), things like religion, extended family, friends, etc. are just much more important than tv in shaping a world view. But I did have two cousins who had come out, and so my mom could call her sister (my aunt) and talk to her about it. And my mom had a friend who came out as a lesbian in her old age, and she was important too as a source of info. My dad was a social worker who had to counsel a lot of gay kids. He didn’t understand why I liked guys and we never had a conversation about it that wasn’t a little bit awkward, but he knew it wasn’t a choice and he happily met my boyfriends over the years. Both my parents were very conservative. It took people they knew to help them come to terms with me being gay. I really think it’s important to give all the brave coming outs from those born before me (when it was a lot less safe) the bulk of the credit.

  14. Mary says

    I’m a little surprised by the downturn in support for SSM from the generations born before 1980. There are two ways to read this. One is that there isn’t as much support for SSM as we thought and that younger people are experiencing a “Bradley effect.” – being afraid to look “backward” by opposing SSM publicly. Older people are less intimidated by fashion and trends.

    A second way to read it is that the over 30 generations are actually changing a lot but are still not completely comfortable with SSM. What they may really be trying to do is claim that the people under 30 are forcing this change upon America and that there’s nothing they can do about it. The civic and silent generations did a lot of this same thing in the 1960’s and 70’s – blaming the baby boomers for the changes that were being instituted by Supreme Court Justices who were old enough to be the boomers’ grandparents.

    We’ll know in a few years whether this downturn in SSM support proves to be a serious obstacle to progress. My guess is no.

  15. Dave says

    Are you guys looking at the same chart I am? A slight dip is irrelevant. What I do see is support nearly DOUBLING among those born between 1928 and 1945 in a mere 10 years. Support among millennials increased 20 points. But somehow, we’re not making the same sort of inroads with people born between 1946 and 1980.

    What’s so special about those two generations that our message isn’t getting through to them, but is reaching young adults and the very old alike?

  16. Tim says

    People love gays because they really don’t know them. TV is false reality. It can get ugly with two queens fighting over the same guy. And now boys will be forced to have an affair with “a married man”
    — one married to a guy. Really limits the playing field this marriage. And wait for the “happy couple” Oscars to be handed out.
    Single and miserable may be preferable in some instances.

  17. millerbeach says

    How so, Garth? Delusional because they can think for themselves? Quite frankly, I am impressed…not only are they supportive of me, they will be supporting me in a few years down the road…LOL Be nice to them…they are how we will get our SS $$$.

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