Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments on whether to overturn dozens of state bans on same-sex marriage mark a moment in which the justices will either join or buck a surprisingly consistent wave of changing attitudes.
These five charts show how Americans essentially changed their mind on the issue.
1. In 1988, 11 percent supported the right for gays to marry
Last week, our own Post-ABC poll reported a record high 61 percent support for allowing same-sex marriages. That result is not surprising given a wave of polls on the issue, but it’s easy to lose sight of how widely opposed same-sex marriage once was.
The 1988 General Social Survey found just 11 percent of adults agreeing that “homosexual couples have the right to marry one another” when it first asked the question. The GSS found about three times as much support in 2004, when 30 percent supported a right to marry. Since 2006, support has grown by between 13 and 22 percentage points across the GSS, Post-ABC, Pew Research and Gallup polls.
2. It’s not just about millennials
Millennials are the most supportive generation of same-sex marriage, but generational replacement is slow and the youngest generation could not cause such a swift shift in overall attitudes alone. From 2006 to 2014, same-sex marriage support among Baby Boomers grew from 25 to 50 percent according to the GSS. It grew by 21 points among Generation X over that same period. Back in 2006, Millennials actually split 47-44 agree-disagree on same-sex marriage; by 2014, 71 percent backed it.
3/4. Same-sex marriage views are still divided along political and religious lines
While attitudes have shifted across all groups in the population, those who are younger, Democratic and highly educated are still far more supportive than Republicans, older adults and those with lower levels of education.
Same-sex marriage attitudes also continue to be divided along religious lines. The vast majority of those who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage, as do majorities of white mainline Protestants and Catholics, according to Pew Research Center surveys.
But support drops to 41 percent among black Protestants and to 21 percent among white evangelical Protestants. Church attendance is also closely connected to same-sex marriage support. In the GSS, 2014 support stood at 30 percent among those who attend worship services nearly every week or more, but rose to 66 percent among those attending sporadically and 69 percent of those who never attend.
5. Same-sex marriage attitudes sharply divided across states
Reflecting their political and religious character, support also ranges widely across states, including many where voters passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage but have seen them thrown out by federal courts in a wave of recent decisions.
Support is below a majority in 18 states, according to the Public Religion Research Institute -- mostly Republican states in the South. Support is highest in the Northeast with at least 7 in 10 in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents favoring same-sex marriage.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.