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Supporters, Opponents Of Gay Marriage Find Legality Inevitable

Jun 6, 2013
Originally published on June 10, 2013 3:38 pm
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As the country waits for the Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage, here's an interesting finding about people on opposite sides of that issue. Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage say they think that its legal recognition is inevitable.

That's the finding of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. And the director of the Pew Center, Michael Dimock, joins us now. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: First, the headline number from your poll. You surveyed about 1,500 Americans last month, and nearly three-quarters - 72 percent - say they think legal same-sex marriage is inevitable. But obviously, more supporters of the idea think it's inevitable than opponents.

DIMOCK: That's right, but I think what's critical here is that if the majority on both sides of the issue now. You do have 85 percent of supporters of gay marriage who believe legal recognition will just happen. But you also have 59 percent of people who are personally opposed to gay marriage being legalized, who think it's inevitable, that it will happen.

SIEGEL: Fifty-nine percent is a pretty big number.

DIMOCK: It is a big number, yeah. And I think it could reflect two things. They may think that the political tides are against them - it maybe an expression of frustration. But it may also be an expression that, you know, there are other fights to fight.

SIEGEL: There are a couple of tables you have that are pretty steady progressions: one, as people get older; and two, as people get more to educated. What do you see?

DIMOCK: Well, you know, older people still have more concerns about homosexuality. They are more likely to say it should be discouraged by our society, not accepted, and they're more likely to oppose gay marriage. But you've seen more shifts in those groups particularly on this idea that it's inevitable that it will happen.

SIEGEL: And people with more education are more likely to approve of the idea of same-sex marriage (inaudible)?

DIMOCK: That's right. Education is a big factor in people's attitudes on this front. And the vast majority of people with college degrees say that gay marriage should be allowed, that homosexuality should be accepted, whereas people with high school degree or less are more concerned, more opposed. Now, that's correlated with other factors: religiosity, where people live and their age. You know, fewer older - people in older generations have college degrees. But even controlling for that, education really is a factor.

SIEGEL: Typically, in the Pew study it would appear that this is an issue on which Democrats and independents are similar in what they think. And Republicans have a much more negative view of gay marriage. A big exception there is the Democratic constituency, African-Americans.

DIMOCK: That's right. There is still more resistance to gay marriage and homosexuality within the African-American community. A fair amount of that is linked to religion. African-Americans tend to be more religious, more committed to religion. And, as we find in the population, generally - white, black, Latino, whatever your background - the more religious you are, the more important that is to you, the more these concerns about homosexuality come up.

But it is also related to other factors. Even when we look at more religious and less religious African-American, there's just more resistance. There's also a gender gap both among blacks and whites on this issue.

SIEGEL: There's a big question that seems to drive people's attitudes toward same-sex marriage, but not necessarily the inevitability of its becoming legal. And that is why do you think people are gay and lesbian? You think it's that they're born that way? Or do you think it's the way they just choose to live? And we can infer a lot about what people will say based on their answer to that question.

DIMOCK: To a large extent, yes. You have somewhere around 40 percent or so who say that this is something people are born with, and that's increased over the past two decades. But you still have about 40 percent or so who think this is just a choice people are making. And that's very strongly related to people's support for homosexuality. People who think it's something you're born with are much more supportive of gay marriage and acceptance of homosexuality.

One interesting finding of there is that relationship is weaker among younger Americans than it is among older Americans. In fact, younger Americans are slightly more likely to say homosexuality is a choice. They're not really engaged in the question of what it is, all they know is that it's OK with them.

SIEGEL: Michael Dimock, thank you very much for talking with us about your poll.

DIMOCK: Well, thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Michael Dimock is director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.