Majority Support for Marriage Equality Just Around the Corner

Posted on September 4th, 2009 by Katherine Franke

persily2A majority of Americans could support same-sex marriage within five years regardless of whether state courts legalize such unions, a new study by Columbia Law Professor Nathaniel Persily and New York University Professor Patrick J. Egan have found.

The study estimates that 42 percent of the public now supports legalizing same-sex marriage, the highest level ever.

“If current trends continue, a majority of Americans will support same-sex marriage by the year 2014,” the authors write. “While majority support does not always lead to movement in policy, the tone of the national debate would likely change significantly if support for gay marriage can no longer be written off as a minority viewpoint.”

The findings first appeared this week in The Polling Report.

The study analyzed polls on same-sex marriage involving more than 50,000 respondents taken between 1996 — when President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as being exclusively between a man and woman — and this year. They also analyzed whether polls were influenced by high-profile state-court rulings on same-sex marriage.

The data revealed:

•    All states have had considerable increases in support of same-sex marriage, regardless of high-court rulings for or against gay couples.
•    In states where same-sex marriage cases have reached the top courts, residents support same-sex marriage at higher levels than in states with no court rulings.

•    The three states that have had pro-gay decisions in place the longest – Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey – have had steeper rises in support of gay marriage than the national average.

In states like Connecticut and Iowa, where high courts more recently legalized same-sex marriage, the study found it is too soon to tell whether those rulings would shift public opinion. However, the authors found it is reasonable to conclude that residents “tend to adapt” to such court decisions and support same-sex marriage.

“Of course, it’s likely that state high courts have anticipated how public opinion would react to their decisions and issue rulings with this in mind,” Persily and Egan wrote.


  1. Great summary of the study, Katherine. I think what would also be interesting is whether support for gay marriage is increased when states give gay couples rights other than marriage, such as adoption and domestic partnership benefits. I suspect that it is.

  2. Great piece. I’d agree with Gideon though — there are other factors, probably including percentages of people who have family/close friends who are openly gay, and population density.

  3. Also proximity to gay marriage legal states — RI at 60% (in a recent Brown U survey) approval is an example.

  4. "Majority Support for Marriage Equality Just Around the Corner" –

  5. […] Public support for gay marriage has increased in every state over the last ten years. However, Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, notes that public support increases most in states where cases about same sex marriage have reached the highest court: […]

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