Saturday, November 07, 2009

The state of same-sex marriage

Andrew Koppelman

In this week’s elections, Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage, while Washington voters approved a domestic partnership law that gave same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of married couples. There is considerable grief and discouragement among the gay community, and some puzzlement in the blogosphere about what happened in Maine. But it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the big picture.

Same-sex marriage, as I’ve said before, is one of the most quickly successful political movements in American history. Ten years ago, no state gave marriage rights to same-sex couples. Today, even after the loss of Maine, nearly a quarter of the population of the United States lives in a jurisdiction that gives couples those rights, though about half don’t use the label “marriage.”

The longer-term trend is equally clear.

According to Gallup, 57% oppose same-sex marriage. But several other polls that break these numbers down find that there is a sharp generational divide: among those 18 to 34 years old, 58 percent supported same-sex marriages. That number drops to 42 percent among respondents aged 35 to 49, to 41 percent of those aged 50 to 64, and only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older. Paul Steinhauser, CNN Poll: Generations Disagree on Same-Sex Marriage, May 4, 2009, available at; Arian Campo-Flores, A Gay Marriage Surge, Newsweek, Dec. 5, 2008, available at (visited July 2, 2009); Adam Nagourney, On Politics: Signs G.O.P. Is Rethinking Stance on Gay Marriage, Apr. 28, 2008. The effect is even noticeable among white evangelical Christians, otherwise a very conservative lot: 58 percent of those 18-29 years old support some legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 26 percent supporting marriage rights. Only 46 percent of those over 30 support any legal recognition, with 9 percent supporting marriage. Older evangelicals also care much more about the issue: according to a Pew Forum study, 61.8 percent of those over 60 said that “stopping gay marriage” was very important, while only 34 percent of those 29 and under said so.

In short, in the long run, same-sex marriage is winning. There will be setbacks at the polls, as there have been lately in Maine and California, but the broader cultural shift is unmistakeable.

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