Most Americans Support Supreme Court Decision, Expansion Of Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court's expansion of same-sex marriage seems to be sitting well with the American public.

Gay Marriage Wedding Cake Two Women

A new poll says that a majority of Americans support the Supreme Court’s decision to decline review of the same-sex marriage cases that had been before it, and the expansion of same-sex marriage rights across the nation that resulted from it:

Most Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll support the recent U.S. Supreme Court action allowing gay marriages to go forward in several states – including a bare majority in the 11 states in which such marriages have begun in the past week and a half.

Overall, 56 percent of Americans support the court’s action, while 38 percent oppose it – exactly matching opinions on whether or not gay marriage should be legal, asked in an ABC/Post poll in June. These results reflect the public’s dramatic shift in support of gay marriage the past decade.

By declining to hear several appeals, the high court cleared the way for gay marriage in five states – Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Three others in the same jurisdictions followed suit (Colorado, North Carolina and West Virginia), and gay marriage bans in three additional states, Idaho, Nevada and Alaska, were rejected by other courts in the past week.

In the 19 states (and Washington, D.C.) that had previously legalized gay marriage, the court’s decision is especially popular: Sixty-six percent support the decision, with 30 percent opposed. Support is sharply lower, but still 51 percent, in the 11 states that have allowed gay marriage since the Supreme Court’s action, vs. 42 percent opposed. (The rest are undecided.)

Americans divide similarly, by 48-44 percent, support-oppose, on the court’s action in the 20 remaining states in which gay marriage remains illegal.

Actually, after yesterday’s actions in Arizona, Alaska, and Wyoming, there are now 18 states where same-sex marriage remains illegal, and that number will be down to 15 once legal matters are completed in Montana, Kansas, and South Carolina. In any case, though, it shouldn’t be surprising that there remains a sharp ideological and partisan divide on the issue:

At the same time, the issue remains divisive. This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that seven in 10 strong conservatives, nearly two-thirds of Republicans and 72 percent of evangelical white Protestants oppose the court action.

Sentiment on both sides, moreover, is intense – seven in 10 Americans have strong feelings on the subject, including 38 percent who “strongly” support the court action and 32 percent who strongly oppose it. Only 18 and 6 percent “somewhat” support or oppose the action, respectively.

GROUPS – Support includes more than seven in 10 college graduates and adults under 40, and more than six in 10 Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants alike, falling sharply among their counterparts.

Eight in 10 liberals are in favor, as are six in 10 moderates, vs. just a third of conservatives. And support ranges from 72 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents to 25 percent of Republicans. Indeed, in a separate question, 49 percent of independents say their opinion of gay marriage is closer to the Democratic Party’s; just 23 percent say they’re closer to the GOP on the issue. Largely as a result, Americans overall are 17 points more likely to side with the Democratic Party over the GOP on the issue of gay marriage, 48 vs. 31 percent.

At some point, one thinks we’re going to see the numbers for Republicans change. There will continue, no doubt, to be a subset of conservatives who will remain opposed to same-sex marriage for religious reasons but, once full marriage equality is the law of the land I suspect we will see many Republicans back away from the issue and support the status quo. We have already seen Governors such as  Scott Walker, Mike Pence, and Gary Herbert move in that direction after the Supreme Court made marriage equality an inevitability in their states. We’ve also seen that, outside of social conservatives such as Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, the Republican response to this month’s actions on the marriage equality front has basically been deafening silence. While that reaction is likely to annoy the social conservatives, as Huckabee’s empty threat to leave the GOP demonstrates, for the most part the polling is making it clear that the GOP’s position on this issue is going to hurt it it far more that it is going to help it. This will become especially true, I would suggest, as we head closer to the day when same-sex marriage is legally recognized in the rest of the United States. I wouldn’t expect the GOP to become pro-same sex marriage per se, and the party is still likely to oppose measures such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and argue in favor of religious exemptions from discrimination laws for people who don’t want to do business with same-sex couple, at least in the short term. For the most part, however, we are already seeing the GOP beat a hasty retreat on this issue and that is only going to continue as the final legal and political battles on this issue are fought out to their inevitable conclusion.

This poll is also significant because it shows that the Supreme Court is moving in line with public opinion, and may even be trailing it to some extent. This addresses a concern that Justice Ginsburg had made public several months ago about the Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade as well as her remarks about same-sex marriage itself, namely the concern that the Court may be stepping out ahead of public opinion on an issue such as this. While public opinion certainly isn’t relevant from a legal point of view, the Justices are obviously aware of it and Chief Justice Roberts in particular seems to be highly concerned with preserving the Court’s public image, in part by ensuring that it doesn’t go too far out on a limb when it comes to controversial social issues, Many Court observers have suggested that this is one explanation for why the Court disposed of the same-sex marriage cases the way that it did. The Justices are aware that public opinion has shifted on this issue decisively, the argument goes. Rather than stepping in immediately, though, and issuing a ruling for all time that covers the entire country, they are content to let things stand where they are for now. The fact that this means handing a huge victory to the advocates of marriage equality, then that’s what it means. For now, though, the Court seems content to let the issue play out in the remains Circuit Courts that have not weighed in, although they no doubt recognize that their actions this month mean that they will be obligated to step in if any of them end up upholding a ban on same-sex marriage. This poll, and others that are likely to follow, shows them that their concerns about being ahead of public opinion are largely unfounded, and that the nation will likely adapt well to a ruling that recognizes a right to marriage that applies to same-sex couples.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Most Americans also support background checks, climate change, and that current abirtion laws are appropriate. Same with immigration reform, pot legalization, and higher taxes on the wealthiest among us.
    How a party on the wrong side of every issue, and history, continues to get elected is puzzling.
    But they have their base fooled…so as long as the base forms a large enough constituency…wer’re stuck with their backwards nonsense.

  2. Kylopod says:

    @C. Clavin:

    How a party on the wrong side of every issue, and history, continues to get elected is puzzling.

    Well, the question is, how much are they continuing to get elected? From what I can see, they’re having a pretty hard time at it.

    They’ve only won the presidential popular vote once since the end of the Reagan era, and even then it was by the barest of margins. Even in their 2010 “landslide” in the House of Representatives, they got just 51% of the popular vote, in an electorate that already skewed older and whiter than the general public. That was enough to give them a huge gain in seats, but it didn’t suggest a massive public endorsement of their agenda (especially at a time of high unemployment, when the incumbent party tends to take the blame). In 2012, Dems actually won the popular vote in the House but were unable to capture it due to the effects of incumbency and gerrymandering. This year the GOP is set to gain Senate seats and possibly gain control of the chamber, but the Senate has always been about as unrepresentative a body as you can get.

    In other words, the GOP is treading water–taking advantage of the least representative aspects of our electoral system to stay aloft, which in the long run is not a sustainable strategy. And there is going to come a point when they’re forced to face that reality.

  3. Tyrell says:

    People will say one thing for a survey, but it is a different story when they get behind the curtain of a voting booth.

  4. george says:

    For some its about weighting of issues. People may be against a party’s stand on most issues, but still vote for them because they agree with them on one issue they feel out weighs everything else.

    Or won’t vote for a party they mainly agree with because of one (for them) nonnegotiable issue.

    The problem is that “most” just means over 50%; if some of the somewhat over 50% of the people who bother voting agree with the Democrats on most issues but won’t vote for them because of some strongly held opinion (taxes, abortion, long time voting habits from when the Republicans weren’t bat sh*t crazy etc) then that’s enough to get the Republicans elected some of the time.

  5. Kylopod says:


    For some its about weighting of issues.

    Agreed. That’s something that’s tricky to determine from polls. There are polls that ask about how strongly the respondents feel about particular issues, or how they prioritize them relative to other issues, but these are relatively rare, and it’s not clear how reliable they are as to the respondents’ actual feelings. All in all, I think the SSM issue is now a net negative for the GOP, but I’m not expecting some mass political realignment over it.

    To understand the real political significance, you have to look at the larger picture. SSM isn’t exactly unique as an issue for which the GOP is staking out a position out of step with the American public. As C. Clavin reminds us above, on virtually all of the big issues separating the parties today the GOP is on the opposite side of public opinion. But cutting tax rates for rich people and slashing Medicare weren’t any more popular 20 years ago than they are today. The difference is that in the past, Republicans used cultural “wedge” issues (flag burning, school prayer, SSM) to distract certain voters who might otherwise find the GOP’s agenda unappealing. This strategy is becoming increasingly untenable as the public grows less and less culturally conservative. That’s what the shift on SSM signifies.

    The problem is that “most” just means over 50%

    Additionally, our electoral system isn’t based entirely on majorities. For example, Romney won 24 states in 2012. That’s 48% of the representation in the Senate. Yet (checking Wikipedia and doing the math) the combined population of all those states is just 36% of the total US population. Think about that for a moment. It means that little over a third of Americans are represented by nearly half of the chamber. In other words, because of the structure of our system, Republicans have power vastly out of proportion to their numbers. And that’s not even getting into the fact that only a third of the chamber is up for reelection this year! (The Republican advantage would disappear if Republicans from states Obama won–Marco Rubio, Mark Kirk, Pat Toomey, etc.–were up for reelection along with the vulnerable red-state Dems this year.) Yet if Republicans capture the Senate in November, it’ll inevitably be spun–not just by Republicans themselves, but by the mainstream media–as some kind of referendum on the Democrats and public endorsement of the GOP, something it most certainly is not. We’ll hear all the usual crap about they have a “mandate” and that “the public has spoken.” That’s just the way it goes.