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COMMENTARY

Changed minds, not young voters, boost same-sex marriage support

October 25, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Sylvia Rolle of the activist group Washington United for Marriage adds new names to a wall of support at the organization's headquarters in Seattle. The group is campaigning for a ballot measure to permit same-sex marriage in Washington that appears headed for voter approval.
Sylvia Rolle of the activist group Washington United for Marriage adds… (Stee Ringman / Seattle Times…)

Increasingly, Americans are moving toward supporting legal recognition of same-sex marriages, a trend driven not by younger people aging into the voting population, but by those already over 18 changing their minds, according to a new study.

The research, reported Thursday by  the centrist Third Way think tank, was an analysis of 98 separate surveys on same-sex marriage.

The think tank found that 75% of the increase in support for gay marriage has come from Americans reconsidering the issue. Only one-quarter of the change comes from young people coming of voting age.

INTERACTIVE: How state differ on gay marriage

That finding defies conventional wisdom, which suggests that more progressive-minded youths had slowly been overwhelming the opinions of conservative older voters on the issue. It helps explain how same-sex marriage has prospects of gaining popular support this year, after voters in recent years consistently rejected state ballot measures to recognize such marriages. The practice has gained wide acceptance in popular culture — notably in “Modern Family” and other popular television shows.

The review of a total of 128,000 poll responses showed support for gay marriage increasing among all demographic groups, including evangelical voters and African Americans — two segments of the population that have been most adamantly opposed.

The research measured the issue from 2004 through 2011, finding an increase in support nationally from 30% to 46% of the population. Marriage equality measures are on the ballot in four states on Nov. 6, and they are likely to pass in Maine, Washington and Maryland, while Minnesota is too close to call.

The report said 13 states now solidly support marriage for gays and lesbians.

Political moderates have moved most dramatically on the issue, with support increasing from 33% of that group to 54% over just seven years. More than 50% of mainline Protestants now support the emerging definition of marriage, compared to just 32.2% seven years ago. Among evangelical Christians, support increased from 11.9% to 20.2%.

Backing for legal recognition of gay marriage rises steadily with education level. Only 27.7% of those with less than a high school education support it, while 59.3% of those with graduate degrees do. The research showed that a majority of Asian Americans support same-sex unions, while just below 50% of whites and Latinos take that position. African Americans remain the group most broadly opposed — with just 34% supportive of changing the traditional definition of marriage.

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