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U.S. Catholics Have Backed Same-Sex Marriage Since 2011

U.S. Catholics Have Backed Same-Sex Marriage Since 2011

by Kristjan Archer and Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • 69% of U.S. Catholics have supported gay marriage since 2016
  • U.S. Catholics' gay marriage support consistently above national average

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Pope Francis recently said he supports legalizing civil unions for gay couples. Most U.S. Catholics believe same-sex unions should be legal -- only they go further than the pope and support marriage for same-sex couples. A majority of Catholics have consistently approved of gay marriage in Gallup polling since 2011, with an average 59% approving from 2011-2015, rising to an average 69% since 2016.

U.S. Catholics' support for gay marriage has consistently exceeded the national average by five or more percentage points since the 2000s.

U.S. Catholics' Support for Legal Same-Sex Marriage, 2006-2020
Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?
U.S. Catholics National adults Difference
% Should be valid % Should be valid (pct. points)
2006-2010 49 42 +7
2011-2015 59 54 +5
2016-2020 69 64 +5
Figures only shown from Gallup's annual Values poll, conducted in May of each year

Civil unions for same-sex couples are, and have been, allowed in some countries as well as some U.S. states in lieu of the legal distinction of marriage. In most cases, civil unions allow many of the same benefits as marriages, but not all. Civil unions remain as legal options for couples in five U.S. states after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Other states that once allowed civil unions have since converted these arrangements to legally recognized marriages.

Support for same-sex marriage among Americans as a whole has grown since Gallup began asking about it in 1996. Today, two in three U.S. adults (67%) say marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, matching the previous high Gallup measured in 2018.


Line graph: Americans' views of whether marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages, since 1996. Currently, 67% say marriages should be legal and 31% say they should not. This is roughly the opposite of what it was in 1996.

Lower Support Among Frequent Catholic Churchgoers

From 2016 to 2020, Gallup found that the more often a Catholic attends church, the less likely they are to support legal recognition of same sex marriage.

A small majority (56%) of Catholics who report attending church weekly support gay marriage, compared with two in three Catholics who attend church nearly weekly or monthly (67%). In contrast, 78% of Catholics who say they seldom attended mass support it.

Meanwhile, 56% of Catholics who say that religion is "very important" to their life support same-sex marriage, while 78% of Catholics who say religion is "fairly important" support it. Eighty-seven percent of Catholics who say religion is "not very important" to their lives support gay marriage.

Bottom Line

Catholics, who constitute more than a fifth of U.S. adults, have been consistently more supportive of same-sex marriage than the population as a whole over more than a decade -- much like young adults and Democrats.

Francis' comments are unprecedented for a pontiff but will likely make little difference on the issue in the U.S., where same-sex couples have enjoyed full marriage rights and protections since 2015. Politically, the issue is largely a moot point, with no serious efforts being made to overturn that right by lawmakers. However, recent statements made by two U.S. Supreme Court justices suggest that the right of marriage license issuers to deny a license to same-sex couples could be revisited -- potentially reigniting an issue once considered settled law.

From a global perspective, Francis' new stance on civil unions could potentially be more influential in countries where gay rights are less accepted and LGBT citizens can be legally discriminated against.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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