Opposition to same-sex marriage dropped sharply across the country during
the past two years, though just over half of Americans still oppose allowing
gays and lesbians to marry, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center
The poll also showed increased support for allowing same-sex couples to
adopt children, and substantial backing for the rights of gays and lesbians to
serve openly in the military.
The survey was released one day after a poll of California residents
indicated increasing support for gay rights in the state, including for
same-sex marriages. The nonpartisan Field Poll found that support for same-sex
marriage in the state had risen from 38 percent in 1997 to 43 percent today.
The Pew center's national poll of 1,405 adults, conducted from March 8-12,
found that 51 percent opposed same-sex marriage and 39 percent supported it. In
February 2004, as same-sex couples were marrying in San Francisco, a Pew poll
found 63 percent of Americans opposed the right of gays and lesbians to marry
and 30 percent in favor. The margin of error in the latest survey was plus or
minus 3 or 4 percentage points, depending on the question.
"In 2004, (same-sex marriage) was an emotional issue that struck a very
deeply rooted chord in a lot of people," said Michael Dimock, associate
director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. "It is still an
issue -- a lot of people who opposed it then still oppose it now. But a lot
of people who opposed it then were in an intense environment and either feel
less strongly or feel that people can do what they want to do."
Support for same-sex marriage has grown steadily over the past decade,
according to the Pew center, which is an independent research organization. In
1996, 65 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and 27 percent
Wednesday's poll found the country nearly evenly split on allowing gay and
lesbian couples to adopt children -- 46 percent in favor, 48 percent opposed.
In 1999, 38 percent of Americans supported adoptions by same-sex couples, while
57 percent opposed them.
Sixty percent of those polled in the most recent survey supported allowing
gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while 32 percent opposed the
"It indicates people are changing," Dimock said. "They're becoming more
open and tolerant, and we also have a shift in generations, which has a big
The poll noted a distinct change in the number of respondents who said
they "strongly oppose" same-sex marriage. In February 2004, 42 percent were in
that category. That dropped to 28 percent this year, with the biggest decreases
being among people over 65, Republicans and those who described themselves as
Gay rights advocates said Americans have had plenty of opportunity in the
past two years to hear the stories of gay couples and same-sex parents, which
has increased tolerance for gay and lesbian rights.
"I think people have thought more about gay families in the last two years
than in the previous 30," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National
Lesbian and Gay Task Force in New York.
Any shift toward support for same-sex marriage has yet to show up at the
polls, however, Since 2004, voters in 13 states have passed constitutional bans
on same-sex marriage. At least seven states will vote on similar measures in
A representative from the evangelical Christian organization Focus on the
Family declined to comment on the poll. The Family Research Council, a
conservative Christian lobbying group in Washington, D.C., did not return a
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle