Two Years After Obergefell, Public Support For Same-Sex Marriage Hits Another High
Two years after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling, nearly two-thirds of Americans support the idea of legal marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans.
The issue of marriage equality has been out of the news largely completely since the Supreme Court issued its last ruling on the topic two years ago. Nonetheless, the election of Donald Trump, and the possibility that Republicans could reshape the Supreme Court so significantly that it puts the Court’s precedents on the issue in doubt has led many to worry about the future. If a new poll from Gallup is any indication, there seems to be little to worry about:
Americans’ support for same-sex marriage has hit a new high, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.
Sixty-four percent of adults surveyed said same-sex marriages should be legal, a 3 percent increase since last year and the most support for gay marriage since Gallup began tracking the issue in 1996, when just 27 percent backed legalizing gay marriage.
Democrats (74 percent) and independents (71 percent) have been most accepting of legalizing same-sex marriages, with support among Democrats reaching a majority in 2004, followed by a majority among independents in 2007. Forty-seven percent of Republicans support legalizing same-sex marriage, the highest ever mark from the GOP.
Gallup has more, including a breakdown of where various demographic groups stand on the issue:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid. Although not meaningfully different from the 61% last year, this is the highest percentage to date and continues the generally steady rise since Gallup’s trend began in 1996.
Americans’ support for same-sex marriage has more than doubled since Gallup first polled on the issue in 1996, when 27% said it should be recognized as valid by the law. In 2004 — weeks before gay weddings took place in Massachusetts after it became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage — less than half of Americans (42%) felt such unions should be legally valid. Majority support for gay marriage would not come until May 2011, about a month before New York became the sixth state to legalize it. Since then, support for legal same-sex marriage has steadily climbed, with consistent majorities in favor of it since late 2012.
Over the past two decades, Democrats have almost always been the political group most likely to say gay marriages should be legally recognized. Among Americans who identify as Democrats, support first reached the majority level in 2004, as the issue was heavily politicized in that year’s presidential election.
Majority support for gay marriage among political independents followed a few years later, in 2007. The latest poll finds that more than seven in 10 independents (71%) and Democrats (74%) support same-sex marriage.
In recent decades, many GOP leaders adamantly opposed gay marriage, but rank-and-file Republicans’ support has nearly tripled since 1996. The current 47% of Republicans favoring it, although not at the majority level, is the highest for this group in the more than two-decade trend.
U.S. Protestants, including all non-Catholic Christians, are now about twice as likely to support gay marriage as they were in 1996 (55% vs. 27%). In recent years, some Protestant churches have moved toward supporting same-sex unions; however, this year’s poll is the first time Protestant support has reached the majority level.
Meanwhile, a majority of U.S. Catholics have consistently supported same-sex marriage since 2011, which is at odds with the Roman Catholic Church’s official position opposing same-sex marriage.
On the broader question of whether relationships between consenting gay and lesbian adults should be legal, nearly three-quarters of Americans say they should:
Americans have consistently been more likely to say that same-sex relations should be legal than to say that gay marriage should be legally valid, suggesting that the marriage question pushes a moral, religious or cultural boundary for some people that gay relationships do not.
When Gallup first polled on the legality of same-sex relations in 1977, 43% said they should be legal. Majority support for legal same-sex relations was first recorded in 2001, at 54% — two years before the Supreme Court would strike down state laws that banned same-sex sexual activity. Since then, support for same-sex relations has grown, with 72% currently saying they should be legal.
It was only two years ago that we were living in an era where the issue of same-sex marriage and marriage equality were perhaps the hottest, most controversial topic in the United States. Beginning in the late 90s with a Court decision in Hawaii in the late 1990s, the two sides of the battle were waging war in the media, in courtrooms across the country, and in legislative chambers at both the state and Federal level. The decision in the Hawaii Supreme Court, for example, is what led to the passage of the Federal Government’s Defense Of Marriage Act, a bill that passed both chambers of Congres with significant bipartisan support, which defined “marriage” in Federal law as only being a marriage between a man and a woman and permitting states to ignore marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples by sister states that they ordinarily would have been required to give full force and effect to if someone with such a license came to their state to live. In elections that occurred beginning in 2004 and continued until 2014 in North Carolina, voters approved referenda banning same-sex marriage in the majority of American states. By and large, this happened because public opinion at the time was largely opposed to the idea that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
Slowly but surely though, things began to change. At the legislative level, states began to pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, with Massachusetts being the first such state to do so, with several of its New England neighbors following suit as the years progressed. At the judicial level, a group of lawyers from the ACLU and elsewhere that included people from opposing sides of the political aisle such as David Boies and former Solicitor General Ted Olsen who had joined forces to overturn DOMA and other laws restricting the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. At the same time, pollsters were seeing something extraordinary. In a very short period of time that reached back to only 1996 when they began asking the question, the segment of the American public supporting marriage equality was rising steadily, and the number of those opposed was steadily on the decline. Without fail, every new poll that was released on the subject found this to be the case. Even in states such as Virginia, where a referendum banning same-sex marriage had been approved by an overwhelming majority of voters had just been approved in 2006, it wasn’t long before a majority of Virginians said they supported same-sex marriage and believed it should be legal. As many people have observed, this kind of change in public opinion over such a short period of time is rather unprecedented, and can best be seen in this chart:
As support for the legalization of same-sex marriage increased, it was easy to see where things would eventually end up, the only question was how long it would take to get there and whether it would come via the ballot box, the legislature, the courts, or a combination of all three. As opposed to a time when state referenda banning same-sex marriage were passing easily, now it was the case that referenda legalizing it were being overwhelmingly approved while those that sought to ban it were being rejected. Eventually, the judicial process reached its end point, and in two cases the Supreme Court dealt a death blow to laws banning same-sex marriage nationwide. First, in Windsor v. United States, the Court struck down Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act, which granted equal rights to same-sex couples legally married in the increasing number of states that allowed it. On the same day that decision was handed down, the Court ruled in Hollingsworth v. Perry that allowed a lower court ruling striking down California’s Proposition 8 to stand which meant that same-sex marriage would now be legal in the nation’s most populated state. Finally, less than two years ago in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court overruled the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down the bans on same-sex marriage in the nineteen or so states that it had been still been illegal.
Now we’re at the point where same-sex marriage has largely disappeared from the headlines and the American people have appeared to accept the fact that it is legal and should remain so now that the nation’s highest court has spoken.That doesn’t mean there aren’t still areas of resistance, of course. The cases of people such as Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was removed from office for a second time largely due to his refusal to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell. Overall, though, it really does seem as though the debate is over and that the American people consider the matter settled. Most Republicans dismiss questions about the issue, pointing to the fact that the Supreme Court has spoken about the issue, and except for an increasingly small segment of the population, there is only a small audience now for politicians who would run for office based on the idea of banning same-sex marriage. Vigilance is always called for, of course, and those who worry that a change in the makeup of the Supreme Court could put Obergefell into some degree of doubt. Absent some massive reversal in public opinion, though, which seems unlikely, the odds that we’ll be forced to fight this war again seems to be somewhere between slim and none.