PRINCETON, NJ - Fifty-three percent of Americans say the law should recognize same-sex marriages, the third consecutive reading of 50% or above in Gallup polling over the past year. The 53% in favor ties the high to this point, also measured last November and in May 2011.
Gallup's May 2-7 poll suggests Americans' support for gay marriage is solidifying above the majority level. Recently, Rhode Island and Delaware legalized same-sex marriage, and Minnesota is likely to follow suit. That would bring the total number of states legally recognizing same-sex marriage to 12.
Just three years ago, support for gay marriage was 44%. The current 53% level of support is essentially double the 27% in Gallup's initial measurement on gay marriage, in 1996.
Nearly all U.S. subgroups are more likely to favor gay marriage now than in the past. Politically, Democrats, independents, and liberals all show increasing support for gay marriage over time, with each well above the majority level now. Republicans, conservatives, and moderates are more likely to favor gay marriage now than in 1996, but the increase in support among these groups may have stalled. Thus, most of the increase in the percentage favoring legal gay marriage in the last three years has come among left-leaning groups politically.
One factor pointing to continued expansion of gay marriage support in the future is that young Americans are more likely than older Americans to favor it. That difference by age has always been apparent, and it persists today even though support has increased among all age groups over time.
Assuming these patterns by age continue, Americans in older age groups 20 years from now will probably be more supportive of gay marriage than those who are currently aged 50 or older, as was the case for those in the same age groups in 2013 versus 1996.
Americans Largely Unaware of Current State of Public Opinion on Gay Marriage
Although a majority of Americans themselves support legal gay marriage, an even larger majority perceive that most Americans come down on the side of not legalizing it. When asked their impression of how most Americans feel about the issue, 63% say the public is opposed to gay marriage and 30% say the public favors it. These data suggest that a segment of Americans who support same-sex marriage believe that their views are in the minority, while in reality they are in the majority.
Members of groups most likely to support gay marriage themselves, such as young adults, Democrats, and liberals, are more likely to perceive that Americans are pro-gay marriage than members of groups who personally oppose it. But even Democrats and young adults are of the view that most Americans oppose gay marriage. Liberals are divided as to whether the public favors or opposes it.
Americans Not Convinced of Societal Benefit of Gay Marriage
Although a majority of Americans now favor legalizing gay marriage, that is not necessarily because they think it will be beneficial to society more broadly. A relatively small, but growing, proportion believes legalizing same-sex marriage will change society for the better. Currently, 19% hold this view, up from 10% in 2003.
The rest of Americans are divided between saying legal gay marriage will have no effect on society (40%) or will make it worse (39%). Fewer say gay marriage will make things worse than did so in 2003 and 2010.
Groups most likely to support gay marriage generally tilt toward the view that it will neither harm nor benefit society. Thus, it appears that a segment of those who support gay marriage don't necessarily do so thinking that such a policy change would be good for society, but rather because they think it will do no harm -- a view that goes along with a more libertarian perspective that allows people to do what they want as long as it doesn't hurt other people. Groups that oppose gay marriage, not surprisingly, view it as harmful to society.
In 1996, about the time President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal government recognition of same-sex marriages, Americans were decidedly against legalizing gay marriage. Since that time, public opinion on the issue has changed significantly, and now it appears a stable majority is in favor of allowing same-sex couples to legally marry.
That growing public support has helped promote a change in many states' laws, and the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act itself is uncertain, with the Supreme Court set to rule on a challenge to it in the coming weeks. Of course, states that have passed gay marriage laws tend to be the most politically Democratic and liberal states, so a real tipping point may be the fate of gay marriage in the more politically moderate or competitive states, many of which passed constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in the 2004 elections.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 2-7, 2013, with a random sample of 1,535 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.