New Study: Support for Gay Marriage Grew Faster in Past Two Years

Bipartisan study by presidential pollsters shows growth of public support for gay marriage accelerated.

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Support for gay marriage increased at an accelerated rate over the past two years, according to a new bipartisan report released Wednesday. The study, commissioned by gay-rights group Freedom to Marry, was conducted by two top pollsters—Dr. Jan van Lohuizen of Voter Consumer Research, who worked for President George W. Bush's presidential campaigns, and Joel Benenson of Benenson Strategy Group, who worked for President Barack Obama's.

According to the report, polling data from sources including Gallup, CNN/ORC, ABC/Washington Post, and Pew Research Center indicate that average support for legalizing gay marriage grew at a rate of approximately 1 percent per year between 1996 and 2009, but the rate increased to 5 percent growth per year from 2009 to 2011. "That's actually a 500 percent increase in the rate of change," Benenson said at a press conference. "We rarely see that kind of upward spike in support around an issue." [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Because of that growth, several national polls show a majority of Americans now support legalizing gay marriage, including Gallup (53 percent), Public Religion Research Institute (51 percent), CNN/ORC (51 percent), and ABC/Washington Post (53 percent). A Pew poll from March reported 45 percent supported while 46 percent opposed legalizing gay marriage.

Since the polls show young people are increasingly likely to support gay marriage as they come of voting age, the trend is expected to continue, even if other groups don't rethink their views on the issue. "Because of demographic shifts, we will see a steady march from a majority to a supermajority" of support for same-sex marriage, Benenson said. [Vote now: Should the Defense of Marriage Act be repealed?]

And van Lohuizen said the sharp spike in support over the last two years is not just due to generational change, but also because people in key constituencies are changing the way they think about the issue. He says support has increased by 15 percent among seniors, 13 percent among independents, and 8 percent among Republicans. And there has been a shift among those who "strongly support" or "strongly oppose" gay marriage as well: The study's data shows strong opposition for gay marriage has shrunk by 13 percent since 2004 and strong support has grown by 12 percent. "Even among the core opponents of this issue," van Lohuizen said, "significant change has been going on."

Freedom to Marry's president and same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson says increased awareness and conversation about the issue are responsible for the growth in support. "Even where antigay ballot measures succeed at the time, the net result is that people are prompted into these conversations," he said, pointing to the fact that in 2000, 61.4 percent of California voters cast their ballots to ban gay marriage, but in 2008, that number decreased to 52.3 percent. "The more people talk about this, the more they move into support of the freedom to marry."

Corrected 7/28/11: The previous version of this article misstated the number of Californians who voted to ban gay marriage in 2008.