The Pew Research Center’s latest poll adds to the mound of evidence that there has been a sea change in public opinion about gay marriage:
By a margin of nearly two-to-one (62% to 32%), more Americans now say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry than say they are opposed.
Views on same-sex marriage have shifted dramatically in recent years. As recently as 2010, more Americans opposed (48%) than favored (42%) allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. In the past year alone, support has increased seven percentage points: In March 2016, 55% favored same-sex marriage, while 37% were opposed.
There is a dramatic shift within groups historically reluctant to accept gay marriage. African Americans (51 percent in favor; 41 percent opposed) and Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (47 percent in favor; 48 percent oppose) have all become more supportive of gay marriage. Older white evangelicals remain the exception, even as younger evangelicals’ views shift. (“35% of white evangelical Protestants favor same-sex marriage [up from 14 percent in 2007], compared with a 59% majority who are opposed. But younger white evangelicals have grown more supportive: 47% of white evangelical Millennials and Gen Xers – age cohorts born after 1964 – favor same-sex marriage, up from 29% in March 2016.”)
Several aspects of the poll are striking.
First, older white evangelicals — President Trump’s base — are in the minority on this. Their religious values (vs. gay marriage) don’t hold sway with the rest of the country. They may see themselves as under siege or victims in a “war against Christianity”; in fact, they are simply on the losing side of a larger cultural debate. Ironically, Trump has been supportive of gay marriage in the past and never made it an issue in the campaign. So the Trump base doesn’t even have Trump on its side on this one.
The degree to which white evangelical Christians’ viewpoint has been marginalized is striking. The recent Public Religion Research Institute report noted: “There are only three major religious groups among whom a majority oppose same-sex marriage: Jehovah’s Witnesses (53% oppose vs. 25% support), Mormons (55% oppose vs. 37% support), and white evangelical Protestants (61% oppose vs. 31% support). Together, these three religious groups comprise only 19 percent of the general public.”
Second, one can see how this leads to a phony religious liberty issue. Well, the Supreme Court says they can marry, but I don’t have to sell them a cake! That’s the issue the Supreme Court will consider in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. However the court rules, one cannot help but think that in a decade, discrimination against gays in the name of religion will be as illegitimate as discrimination in the name of religion on the basis of race. The PRRI poll found 50 percent of evangelicals oppose the right to refuse service while “fewer than half of Mormons (42%), Hispanic Protestants (34%), black Protestants (25%), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (25%)” do. Majorities of every racial and ethnic group oppose refusing to serve gays on religious grounds.
Third, education — which is increasingly a defining factor in politics — shows up in attitudes toward gay marriage. Pew found that support for gay marriage was “79% among those with postgraduate degrees and 72% among those with bachelor’s degrees. Smaller majorities of those with some college experience but no college degree (62%) or those with no more than a high school degree (53%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry.”
In sum, a large majority of Americans in a very short time have shifted their view dramatically in favor of accepting gay marriage. Religious minorities are free to disagree, and some still do, but their claimed privilege to discriminate will not be one shared — or even understood — by a growing majority of their fellow Americans.