On August 1, 2013, the states of Minnesota and Rhode Island began issuing same sex marriage licenses. This move follows on the heels of two recent rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States that effectively increase the rights of same sex couples. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of Federal benefits for same sex couples, negating a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In Hollingsworth vs. Perry, another 5 to 4 decision, the court declined to rule on the constitutionality of California’s ballot proposition passed in 2008 banning gay marriage in the state.
Yet the 5-4 votes were cast differently than usual splits, with liberals and conservatives falling on both sides of the issue. The narrow margins and different layout of each vote point to the contentious nature of same sex marriage in the U.S.
But how does this relate to how the U.S. public at large feels about same sex marriage?
The American National Election Studies (ANES; @electionstudies), conducted by the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, illuminates these trends. ANES has been conducting surveys of representative samples of voting age Americans since 1948.
The ANES included questions about levels of support for gay marriage in its 2004, 2008, and 2012 surveys. Tracing the answers to these questions over time, we can see that support for same sex marriage is on the rise among the American electorate. At the same time, those persons having no opinion – indicated by a “don’t know response” – is becoming less common.
Question from the 2012 ANES:
Which comes closest to your view?
1. Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry.
2. Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry.
3. There should be no legal recognition of a gay or lesbian couple’s relationship.
[Note that the “civil unions” response was recorded only if volunteered in 2004 and 2008, and was first listed among the available response options in 2012.]
Support for the legal right for same sex couples to adopt children follows similar trends. As seen in the below table, in 2000 a majority of respondents indicated being against legally permitting same sex adoption, while in 2012 a majority of respondents indicated being for legally permitting same sex adoption.
Do you think gay or lesbian couples should be legally permitted to adopt children?
According to results from the ANES, public support in the U.S. is likewise on the rise both for legal protection from on-the-job discrimination and for the right to serve in the military for persons who are gay. The recent Supreme Court decisions appear to be consistent with the changing values of the American electorate on these issues in general.