Support for same-sex marriage hits a slowdown


This summer has seen a surge of victories for marriage equality. In the US, a stream of state-level court decisions promised to rapidly expand the areas were same-sex marriages are recognized. The recent ruling in Louisiana has carried that trend into the fall. Internationally, two of the UK’s four primary territories (England and Wales) began legally recognizing same-sex marriages, while Scotland formalized plans to do the same in the near future.

This string of wins continues the momentum from 2013, when New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil, France, and several states in the US started legally accepting same-sex marriages. California also rejoined that group after ceasing to recognize new same-sex marriages in the wake of Prop 8 in 2008.

Public opinion towards same-sex marriage has seen a similar uptick. The Pew Research Center and Gallup have each produced charts showing the sometimes rocky but generally upward trend of increased support:

However, both polling centers have noticed a slowdown in public support of marriage equality, particularly after the explosive growth of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s.  

There are some caveats. Very little indicates a reversal in opinion, so the current trend of supporting marriage equality looks like it’s here to stay. There’s also unevenness in the general polling (which you can see in images like the one above), so current polls might be just another bump in the road. As Pew said, “It is too early to know” for sure what to make of these initial polls.

The trend towards support could be deemed structural, with age playing a major role. Younger people tend to accept marriage equality at numbers much higher than the national average. As they come of age and members of older generations die, the general population skews increasingly towards whatever opinion is prevalent among young people.

That shift can only happen if there’s significant difference between the youngest and oldest age groups, which is increasingly less true. In 1996, someone between the ages of 18 and 29 was nearly three times as likely to support marriage equality as someone 65 or older, and the following years saw steady momentum as more supportive Baby Boomers swelled their ranks. Through a mix of demographic churn and being persuaded by marriage equality supporters, people 65 or older are now less than half as likely to support marriage equality compared to people in their late teens or twenties.

LGBT activists could potentially reignite the shift towards support by reaching out to those last holdouts. Gallup’s polling suggests that opposition is increasingly concentrated among conservatives, Republicans, and those in the South and Midwest. Pew reports that white evangelicals are exceptional in their opposition to same-sex marriage (75 percent oppose it, compared to 51 percent for the next least supportive group). Amid intensifying ideological segregation, searching for support from those overlapping groups seems like an unlikely strategy. That may be true internationally as well, with recent French debates over marriage equality seeming like an impossible conversation between a religiously distinctive and politically conservative minority dissatisfied with the recent move towards equality and a majority that accepts it.

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