Major Special Topics Surveys Print

Survey | Generations at Odds: The Millennial Generation and the Future of Gay and Lesbian Rights

[08.29.2011]

Executive Summary

Read the full report here.
Read the news release here.
Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.
Download the report from the Amazon Kindle store here.

There is at least a 20-point generation gap between Millennials (age 18 to 29) and seniors (age 65 and older) on every public policy measure in the survey concerning rights for gay and lesbian people.

  • More than 6-in-10 (62%) Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, 69% favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, 71% favor civil unions, and 79% favor employment discrimination protections for gay and lesbian people.
  • Among seniors, only about 1-in-3 favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry (31%) or favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children (36%). A majority of seniors favor civil unions (51%) and employment discrimination protections for gay and lesbian people (58%), but support lags significantly behind Millennials and the general population.

PRRI Views on Selected Gay Lesbian Issues by age  Survey | Generations at Odds: The Millennial Generation and the Future of Gay and Lesbian Rights

The generation gap in support for same-sex marriage is striking and persists even among conservative political and religious groups.

  • Nearly half (49%) of Republican Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, compared to only 19% of Republican seniors and less than one-third (31%) of all Republicans.
  • Forty-four percent of white evangelical Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, compared to only 12% of evangelical seniors and 19% of evangelicals overall.

Public support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has increased significantly over the last 5 years. 

  • Many polling organizations have recorded double-digit increases in support for same-sex marriage since 2006. In 2011, for the first time, multiple surveys from different organizations (including Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CNN and Public Religion Research Institute) found a majority of the public favored same-sex marriage.
  • In PRRI’s current July survey, views about same-sex marriage are evenly divided; 47% of Americans favor it and 47% oppose it.

There is also a strong net positive self-reported increase in support for same-sex marriage among the general population, and most Americans currently say supporting same-sex marriage is the more socially acceptable position to hold. 

  • Among Americans who say their views have shifted over the last five years, more than twice as many say their current opinion about the legality of same-sex marriage has become more supportive than more opposed (19% and 9% respectively).
  • Consistent with this sea change in opinion over the last five years, a majority (51%) of Americans currently say it is more socially acceptable to support same-sex marriage rather than to oppose it. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Millennials say it is more socially acceptable to favor same-sex marriage, while a majority (56%) of seniors say it is more socially acceptable to oppose same-sex marriage.

Despite the conventional wisdom that religious groups generally oppose rights for gay and lesbian Americans, there are major religious groups on both sides of the debate over same-sex marriage.

  • Majorities of non-Christian religiously affiliated Americans (67%), Catholics (52%), and white mainline Protestants (51%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
  • On the other hand, 6-in-10 (60%) African American Protestants and approximately three-quarters (76%) of white evangelical Protestants oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

There is broad acceptance of same-sex relationships in society and Americans are comfortable with gay and lesbian people in a variety of public professions.

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans agree that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society, including majorities of all major religious groups except white evangelicals.
  • Americans are comfortable with gay and lesbian people serving in a variety of public roles in society, including as a law enforcement officer (75%), a doctor (71%), a judge (70%), a high school teacher (63%), an elementary school teacher (61%), and a clergy person (56%).

Most Americans believe it is difficult to live openly as a gay or lesbian person, but twice as many Americans believe more gay and lesbian people “coming out” is a good thing rather than a bad thing for American society.

  • A majority (51%) of the public say it is very or somewhat difficult in their community to live as an openly gay or lesbian person, compared to 45% who say it is not too or not at all difficult.
  • More than one-third (34%) of Americans say that more gay and lesbian people “coming out” and letting people know they are gay or lesbian is a good thing for society, compared to 18% who say it is a bad thing for society.

Slightly more Catholics believe the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of homosexuality is too conservative than believe it is about right.

  • Forty-six percent of Catholics think the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of homosexuality is too conservative, 43% think it is about right, and only 6% think it is too liberal. Even among Catholics who attend church at least weekly, nearly 4-in-10 (37%) say that the Catholic Church is too conservative on the issue of homosexuality.

Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) Millennials agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

  • Among seniors, only 37% agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental and 48% disagree.

More than 6-in-10 Americans believe that negative messages from America’s places of worship contribute either a lot (23%) or a little (40%) to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

  • Among religious groups, 73% of non-Christian affiliated, 64% of Catholics, 60% of black Protestants, 59% of white mainline Protestants, and 51% of white evangelical Protestants say places of worship contribute either a lot or a little to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

Read the full report here.
Read the news release here.
Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.