The Washington Post

Why support for gay marriage has risen so quickly

Less than a decade ago, almost six in ten Americans said gay marriage should be illegal. Today that same six in ten believe it should be legal.

Support for gay marriage has risen rapidly since 2004.

That rapid change -- particularly on what had long been a divisive social issue -- is remarkable in an age of politics where the entrenchment of the two parties seems close to permanent. And, it begs the question: What the heck happened?

The answer comes in two parts -- one well understood, the other less so.

The first part is that young people are overwhelmingly supportive of gay marriage and, as they come of voting age, have begun to move the needle to their view. (In the latest Washington Post-ABC poll, a whopping 81 percent of those 18-29 think gay marriage should be legal.)

But, simply because young people are strongly supportive of allowing gay people to marry doesn't guarantee that the long-term trend on same sex marriage will continue to bend toward legalization. After all, there is the possibility that as young people age, they will grow less amenable to the idea of gay people marrying.

That's why this second chart -- and this second part of the explanation -- is so important.

What the chart above shows is that not only is each younger generation increasingly supportive of gay marriage but within each generation people are getting more and more ok with legalizing it as they get older. Just 25 percent of Baby Boomers backed legalizing gay marriage in 2004 but that number has rapidly risen all the way to 43 percent in 2012. Ditto Gen X'ers -- 37 percent of whom backed gay marriage in 2004 and 53 percent said the same in 2012.

Combine the fact that young people are heavily supportive of gay marriage and every generation is growing more in favor of legalization as they age and you see why the numbers on gay marriage have moved so quickly -- and why they aren't likely to ever reverse themselves.

Scott Clement, a polling analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media, contributed to this report. 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
New Hampshire has voted. The Democrats debate Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
The big questions after New Hampshire, from The Post's Dan Balz
Can Bernie Sanders cut into Hillary Clinton's strength in the minority community and turn his challenge into a genuine threat? And can any of the Republicans consolidate anti-Trump sentiment in the party in time to stop the billionaire developer and reality-TV star, whose unorthodox, nationalistic campaign has shaken the foundations of American politics?
Clinton in New Hampshire: 2008 vs. 2015
Hillary Clinton did about as well in N.H. this year as she did in 2008, percentage-wise. In the state's main counties, Clinton performed on average only about two percentage points worse than she did eight years ago (according to vote totals as of Wednesday morning) -- and in five of the 10 counties, she did as well or better.
What happened in New Hampshire
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
What happened in N.H.

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.