Survey | A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues
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%) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, compared to 41% who oppose. In 2003, less than one-third (32%) of Americans supported allowing gay and lesbian people to legally marry, compared to nearly 6-in-10 (59%) who opposed.
- Today, roughly equal numbers of Americans say they strongly favor (22%) legalizing same-sex marriage as say they strongly oppose it (20%). By contrast, a decade earlier strong opponents (35%) outnumbered strong supporters (9%) by roughly a 4-to-1 ratio.
- Today, majorities of Americans in the Northeast (60%), West (58%), and Midwest (51%) favor allowing gay and lesbians to legally marry, while Southerners are evenly divided (48% favor, 48% oppose).
- Political divisions on the issue of same-sex marriage have widened over time. The gap in support for same-sex marriage between Democrats and Republicans has increased from 21 percentage points in 2003 to 30 points today. In 2003, roughly 4-in-10 Democrats (39%) and political independents (39%) favored same-sex marriage, compared to 18% of Republicans. Currently, nearly two-thirds (64%) of Democrats and nearly 6-in-10 (57%) independents support same-sex marriage, compared to only 34% of Republicans. More than 6-in-10 (62%) Republicans oppose same-sex marriage.
- In 2003, all major religious groups opposed same-sex marriage, with the exception of the religiously unaffiliated. Today, there are major religious groups on both sides of the issue. Religiously unaffiliated Americans (73%), white mainline Protestants (62%), white Catholics (58%), and Hispanic Catholics (56%) all favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. A majority (83%) of Jewish Americans also favor legalizing same-sex marriage. Hispanic Protestants are divided; 46% favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry and 49% oppose. By contrast, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) white evangelical Protestants and nearly 6-in-10 (59%) black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Only 27% of white evangelical Protestants and 35% of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.
- Today, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Millennials (ages 18 to 33) favor same-sex marriage, compared to 37% of Americans who are part of the Silent Generation (ages 68 and older). The generation gap today, or the difference in support for same-sex marriage between America’s youngest and oldest cohorts, is now 32 points, roughly as wide as it was in 2003.
- It is difficult to overstate the effect age has on support for same-sex marriage, which is evident even among groups that oppose same-sex marriage. Half (50%) of Millennial Republicans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a view shared by only 18% of Republicans who are members of the Silent Generation.
- Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) black Millennials say gay and lesbian people should be allowed to legally marry, compared to only 39% of black Americans overall.
- White evangelical Protestant Millennials are more than twice as likely to favor same- sex marriage as the oldest generation of white evangelical Protestants (43% vs. 19%).
- Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans report having a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, nearly three times the number (22%) who reported having such a relationship in 1993. Americans who have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian are 27 points more likely than those who do not to favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (63% vs. 36%). This “family and friends” effect is present across all major demographic, religious and political groups.
A slim majority of Americans (52%) currently prefer same-sex marriage be decided by the states while more than 4-in-10 (43%) say the issue should be decided at the national level. Today, 6-in-10 (60%) opponents of same-sex marriage think the question of whether to legalize same-sex marriage should be decided by the states. By contrast, a majority (54%) of same-sex marriage supporters prefer the issue be decided at the national level. In 2006, however, the preferences of each group were reversed.
Even though most polls since 2012 have shown a majority of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, only about one-third (34%) of the public believe that most Americans favor same-sex marriage. Nearly half (49%) of the public incorrectly believe that most Americans oppose same-sex marriage, and roughly 1-in-10 (9%) believe the country is divided on the issue.
Regular churchgoers (those who attend at least once or twice a month), particularly those who belong to religious groups that are supportive of same-sex marriage, are likely to overestimate opposition for same-sex marriage in their churches by 20 percentage points or more.
- About 6-in-10 (59%) white mainline Protestants believe their fellow congregants are mostly opposed to same-sex marriage. However, among white mainline Protestants who attend church regularly, only 36% oppose allowing gay and lesbian people to legally marry while a majority (57%) actually favor this policy.
- Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics believe that most of their fellow congregants are opposed to same-sex marriage. However, Catholics who regularly attend church are in fact divided on the issue (50% favor, 45% oppose).
Millennials report a nearly 20-point gap between the views of their families and the views of their friends. Nearly half (49%) of Millennials say most of their family members oppose same-sex marriage, compared to 41% who say most of their family members support it. In contrast, only 30% of Millennials say most of their friends oppose same-sex marriage, while nearly twice as many (59%) say most of their friends favor same-sex marriage. Americans from the Silent Generation are equally likely to say that most of their friends (57%) and family members (56%) oppose same-sex marriage.
Americans strongly support laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination in the workplace. More than 7-in-10 (72%) Americans favor laws protecting gay and lesbian people from job discrimination, compared to less than one-quarter (23%) who oppose.
- Solid majorities of both political parties and every major religious group support workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and lesbian people.
- Three-quarters (75%) of Americans incorrectly believe it is currently illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Only 15% of Americans correctly say that such discrimination is currently legal under federal law, while nearly 1-in-10 (9%) offer no opinion.
Roughly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. Support has increased substantially since 1999, when 38% of Americans favored allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children. The partisan divisions on attitudes toward adoption largely mirror the findings on support for same-sex marriage.
- Majorities of every generational cohort except the Silent Generation favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. Seven-in-ten (70%) Millennials, 58% of Generation X, and 52% of Baby Boomers favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. Among members of the Silent Generation, only 42% favor this policy while 49% are opposed.
By a ratio of more than 2-to-1, the Democratic Party is perceived as being friendlier toward LGBT people than the Republican Party. Seven-in-ten (70%) Americans say the Democratic Party is friendly toward LGBT people, compared to 14% who say it is unfriendly. Sixteen percent say they don’t know or refused to provide an opinion. By contrast, fewer than 3-in-10 (28%) Americans say the Republican Party is friendly toward LGBT people, while a majority (54%) believe the Republican Party is unfriendly toward LGBT people; roughly 1-in-5 (18%) offer no opinion.
- LGBT Americans are as likely as Americans overall (70%) to say that the Democratic Party is friendly toward LGBT people, compared to 20% who say the party is unfriendly. Fifteen percent of LGBT Americans think the Republican Party is friendly toward LGBT people, compared to more than 7-in-10 (72%) who say the GOP is unfriendly toward LGBT people.
Majorities of Americans perceive three religious groups to be unfriendly to LGBT people: the Catholic Church (58%), the Mormon church (53%), and evangelical Christian churches (51%). Perceptions of non-evangelical Protestant churches, African-American churches and the Jewish religion are notably less negative.
- At least two-thirds of LGBT Americans perceive both the Catholic Church (73%) and evangelical Christian churches (67%) as being unfriendly toward LGBT people.
Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Seven-in-ten (70%) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Only among members of the Silent Generation do less than a majority (43%) believe religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans are also far more likely than other Americans to report leaving their childhood religion. Like Americans overall, few LGBT Americans were raised outside a formal religious tradition (8% vs. 7%). However, nearly 4-in-10 (37%) LGBT Americans are now unaffiliated, compared to 21% of Americans. Overall, roughly 3-in-10 (31%) LGBT Americans left their childhood religion to become religiously unaffiliated.
The current survey, using self-identification, finds 5.1% of the adult population identifies as either gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Notably, Americans overestimate the size of the LGBT population by a factor of 4 (20% median estimate). Only 14% of Americans accurately estimate the gay and lesbian population at 5% or less.
Today, majorities of Americans say that transgender Americans (71%), gay and lesbian people (68%), and people with HIV or AIDS (53%) face a lot of discrimination in the United States.
- Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Americans agree bullying of gay and lesbian teenagers is a major problem in schools today, while nearly one-quarter (23%) disagrees. The belief that bullying of gay and lesbian youth is a major problem in schools is broadly shared across partisan and religious lines.
The percentage of Americans who believe AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior has fallen dramatically over time. Fourteen percent of Americans agree with the idea that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior, while 81% disagree. In 1992, more than twice as many Americans (36%) agreed that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior while fewer than 6-in-10 (57%) disagreed.
Americans are significantly more likely to say those who are living with HIV or AIDS in the United States became infected because of irresponsible behavior than to say the same about those living with HIV or AIDS in the developing world.
- Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans say that people with HIV or AIDS in the United States became infected because of irresponsible personal behavior, while just one-quarter (25%) say they became infected through no fault of their own.
- By contrast, only about 4-in-10 (41%) Americans believe that people who have contracted HIV in the developing world did so because of irresponsible behavior. Nearly half (48%) say they contracted the disease through no fault of their own.