Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
PRRI’s latest research, the 2014 LGBT Issues and Trends Survey, shows support for same-sex marriage jumped 21 percentage points from 2003 – when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage – to 2013. Currently, a majority (53 percent) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, compared to 41 percent who oppose. In 2003, less than one-third (32 percent) of Americans supported allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, compared to nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) who opposed. PRRI’s Graphic of the Week shows the steady change in support for same-sex marriage since 2003.
The 2013 findings are based on PRRI’s latest survey, which is one of the largest surveys ever conducted on LGBT issues. The ten-year trend tracks nearly 100 polls from PRRI surveys, as well as data from six other major polling sources (ABC/Washington Post, CNN/ORC, Fox News, Gallup, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and Pew Research Center). Notably, none of these major surveys found majority support for same-sex marriage until 2011. With the exception of Fox News, most polls found majority support for same-sex marriage throughout 2013.
That year also brought a wave of states legalizing same-sex marriage. The legalization of same-sex marriage on a state-by-state basis was less linear than the shift in public opinion; Massachusetts was the only state to legalize same-sex marriage from 2003 until 2008, at which point Connecticut became the second state to legalize same-sex marriage. After 2008, legalization of same-sex marriage increased rapidly at the state level. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of states recognizing same-sex marriage doubled again. Today, 17 states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.