Saturday, April 09, 2011

Who Supports Gay Marriage?

Americans are much more supportive of gay marriage today than they used to be. There are two reasons for this. One, some people are changing their minds about the issue. Two, a generation gap has emerged in attitudes toward gay marriage, with younger, more accepting generations replacing older generations that frown on same-sex relationships.  

In 2010, 46 percent of the public agreed that gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, according to the General Social Survey. In 1988, the first time the GSS asked this question, only 12 percent of the public supported gay marriage.

In 1988, there was little support for gay marriage in any cohort. Among boomers (then aged 24 to 42), only 14 percent agreed that gay/lesbian marriage should be legal. Among young adults (18 to 29), the figure was an almost identical 13 percent, which is not surprising since boomers accounted for most young adults at the time. Among people aged 65 or older in 1988, only 9 percent agreed that gays and lesbians should have the right to marry.

In 2010, the landscape is different. Boomers and older Americans have become more accepting of gay marriage over the years, but the majority is still opposed. Among boomers (aged 46 to 64), 41 percent now support gay marriage. Among people aged 65 or older, 34 percent are now in support. These numbers are significantly higher than they were in 1988, but they still represent a minority view. In contrast, among 18-to-29-year-olds in 2010, fully 65 percent think gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry.

In 1988, there was a tiny 4 percentage point difference in the proportion of young and old adults who thought gay marriage should be legal (13 and 9 percent, respectively). In 2010, the gap is an enormous 31 percentage points (65 and 34 percent, respectively).

As young adults age and replace older generations, gay marriage will become legal and will no longer be controversial. But because older Americans are much more likely to vote than younger adults, gay marriage will be an issue in the voting booth for years to come.

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