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News Release | New Surveys: Half of Americans Believe Federal Government Should Recognize Legal Marriages Between Gay and Lesbian Couples

[03.22.2013]

Majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, including young Republicans and Californians

 

WASHINGTON A majority of Americans (52 percent) and Californians (57 percent) support same-sex marriage, and half (50 percent) say they favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal. These findings come from new surveys released ahead of oral arguments before the Supreme Court in cases relating to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.

Conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, the surveys also find strong generational, political, and religious differences on whether same-sex marriage should be legalized and recognized by the federal government.

A nearly 40-point generation gap exists between Millennials (age 18 – 29) and seniors (age 65 or older) on same-sex marriage. More than 7-in-10 (72 percent) Millennials, including 58 percent of Millennial Republicans and 51 percent of white evangelical Protestants under the age of 35, support same-sex marriage. By contrast, only 36 percent of seniors overall, 14% of Republican seniors, and 15% of white evangelical Protestant seniors favor same-sex marriage.

“We have reached a tipping point on the issue of same-sex marriage in the country, fueled primarily by overwhelming support among younger Americans, but also by broader shifts in opinion,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Even among constituencies that have historically been most opposed to same-sex marriage, younger members now support it.”

The new surveys also find religious groups on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Majorities of Jewish Americans (81 percent), religiously unaffiliated Americans (76 percent), Hispanic Catholics (59 percent), white Catholics (58 percent) and white mainline Protestants (55 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. By contrast, majorities of white evangelical Protestants (71 percent), Hispanic Protestants (65 percent) and black Protestants (57 percent) oppose same-sex marriage.

While about two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans report their views on the legality of same-sex marriage have not changed in the last 5 years, Americans are more than twice as likely to say their views have become more supportive (20 percent) than opposed (8 percent) over that time period.

A majority (55 percent) Americans are certain their position on same-sex marriage is the right one, compared to roughly 1-in-4 (24 percent) who say they are fairly certain, and 14 percent say they are not too certain or not at all certain. Generally, Americans who oppose same-sex marriage are more likely than supporters to report certainty about the rightness of their beliefs (48 percent vs. 32 percent).

“Americans overall seem increasingly polarized, but we’re actually seeing partisan differences shrink among younger Americans on same-sex marriage,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Younger Americans are much more closely aligned with their generation than with their political party or religious group.”

Among the findings:

The Defense of Marriage Act and Federalism

Half (50 percent) of Americans favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal, while 4-in-10 (40 percent) are opposed.

  • Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) and half (50 percent) of independents favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal. Less than one-third of Republicans (32 percent) favor federal recognition of same-sex marriages, while more than 6-in-10 (61 percent) are opposed.
  • Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (71 percent), white mainline Protestants (54 percent), and Catholics (52 percent) favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal. Meanwhile, majorities of white evangelical Protestants (70 percent) oppose this requirement. Minority Christians are divided (41 percent favor, 44 percent opposed).
  • More than 6-in-10 (63 percent) Millennials (age 18-29) favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal, compared to 36 percent of seniors (age 65 and older). A majority (53 percent) of seniors oppose this requirement.

Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans say that same-sex marriage should be left up to the states, while 43 percent believe it should be decided at the national level. Americans who favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry are much more likely than those who are opposed to say the issue should be decided at the federal level (55 percent vs. 32 percent).

Same-sex Marriage

A slim majority (52 percent) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 42 percent who are opposed.

  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Democrats and a majority (57 percent) of independents favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 28 percent of Republicans. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Republicans are opposed.
  • There are also variations by region:
    • Approximately 6-in-10 (62 percent) Americans who live in the Northeast and West (58 percent) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, as do a majority (53 percent) of Americans in the Midwest. By contrast, only 43 percent of Americans who live in the South favor same-sex marriage, while half (50 percent) of Southerners are opposed.
    • Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) Californians favor same-sex marriage.

Churches and Clergy: Ordination of Gay and Lesbian People and Women

Half (50 percent) of Americans agree that gay and lesbian people should be eligible for ordination as clergy with no special requirements, while less than 4-in-10 (38 percent) disagree.

  • Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (69 percent) and Catholics (54 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian people to be ordained as clergy, compared to half (50 percent) of white mainline Protestants, 4-in-10 (41 percent) minority Christians, and less than 1-in-4 (24 percent) white evangelical Protestants. Nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants say they oppose such a policy.

The Morality-Acceptance Gap on Gay and Lesbian Relationships

Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans agree that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society, while roughly 1-in-4 (26 percent) disagree. At the same time, Americans are nearly evenly divided over whether or not sex between two adults of the same gender is a sin (44 percent say it is, 46 percent say it is not). Notably, a significant minority (44 percent) of Americans who believe that sex between two adults of the same gender is a sin nevertheless agree that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society.

 

Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here.

 

Methodology:

Results for all questions above, with the exception of same-sex marriage, are based on findings from the PRRI Religion and Politics Tracking Survey. The results on same-sex marriage are based on findings from the Religion, Values, and Immigration Survey. Findings from both surveys can be found here:

The March Religion and Politics Tracking Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between March 6, 2013 and March 10, 2013 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,028 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (415 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.1 percentage points.

The Religion, Values and Immigration Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with The Brookings Institution. Results from the survey were based on 4,465 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews of adults 18 years of age and older, including 1,774 respondents who were interviewed on a cell phone, conducted between January 28, 2013 and February 24, 2013. The margin of error for the survey is +/ 1.7 percentage points. The Religion, Values, and Immigration Survey was funded by a generous grant from The Ford Foundation, with additional support from The Nathan Cummings Foundation and Four Freedoms Fund/Public Interest Projects.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.