Gallup found 60 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, but belief that sexual orientation is something someone is born with is nearly 10 percent behind, at 51 percent, with 30 percent believing some nurture-nature or other explanation for it. Here are the numbers for beliefs on why people are gay or lesbian, from 1978 to today:
The finding is significant -- it's the first time that number has cracked 50 percent -- and it goes for people of all political persuasions. According to the poll, 64 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents believe sexual orientation is something someone is born with, as do 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, which, although it's not a majority, it's higher than the 36 percent of Republicans who don't.
That number is significant politically because it can reinforce the notion that the marriage battle is a civil rights battle. If sexual orientation is something people are born with and not a choice, there's an argument that can and has been made for same-sex marriage as something people born gay or lesbian have a right to. In fact, it seems like it could be the bedrock of an argument to legalize same-sex marriage.
But that's not how it happened. In a chicken-or-the-egg argument over public opinion of these LGBT issues, support for same-sex marriage has led. Here are results of Gallup's polls laid side-by-side. You'll notice the two tracked together closely until 2009, when support for same-sex marriage began to pull away.
This shows that over the course of the '00s and early '10s, a roughly 15-year window when attitudes on gay and lesbian issues in the U.S. flipped dramatically, there have always been people who supported same-sex marriage but believed that sexual orientation was something other than a born trait. It's never been a prerequisite for supporting same-sex marriage.
There are still millions of Americans who don't support same-sex marriage, but should the trends continue, that number will shrink, and greater acceptance of same-sex marriage will lead to a continued fundamental shift in what the U.S. thinks about sexual orientation.