Backdrop for Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Rights: A Big Shift in Public Opinion

The Senate held a key test vote on Wednesday on a bill that could move same-sex-marriage rights one step closer to protection under federal law. Democrats gained support from 12 Republicans, two above the threshold needed to overcome a filibuster. The bill’s progress reflects a shift in public opinion over time, with same-sex marriage now enjoying overwhelming support from Democrats and majority support from Republicans.

The public’s attitude toward same-sex marriage has been among the most significant shifts in American public opinion in recent decades. Seven in 10 American adults said in May of this year that marriage between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law, a record high according to Gallup. That represents a near complete reversal proportionally in the public’s views over the last 30 years. In 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, nearly seven in 10 Americans said same-sex marriages should not be recognized by the law. Only about one-quarter said they should be valid.

Public support for same-sex marriage has grown since then. In 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, 42 percent of Americans supported legalizing same-sex marriage. And by 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was a constitutionally protected right, 58 percent of the public supported legal same-sex marriage.

Still, at the time of the 2015 ruling, just 30 percent of Republicans backed the change. Since then, support among Republicans has grown substantially, with a majority now in favor of same-sex marriage.

Support has been largely driven by younger Republicans. According to Pew Research Center, 64 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 29 say the legality of same-sex marriage is a good thing for society, compared with 30 percent of Republicans ages 65 and older.

Even in some of the deepest red states across America, support for same-sex marriage is trending upward. In Mississippi, which has a so-called trigger law to ban same-sex marriage if the Supreme Court’s ruling were to be overturned, support has grown over the last few years, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. In 2014, 32 percent of Mississippians supported legalization of same-sex marriage; that number rose to 44 percent as recently as last year. And in Louisiana, a majority now support same-sex marriage protections, up from 42 percent in 2014.

Religion once stood as a dividing line in how Americans viewed same-sex marriage, but even some of those barriers have begun to fall. Pew found that more than six in 10 Catholics and white mainline Protestants favored same-sex marriage, up substantially since 2001. And while fewer Black Protestants and white evangelical Protestants are in favor, support has grown among both groups over the last two decades.

In July, the House of Representatives passed a similar bill to codify abortion rights, weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, though it lost steam after it failed to draw enough Republican support. Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion hinted that prior rulings, such as the court’s decision on same-sex marriage, could be future targets for the court to overturn.


Related posts