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Same-Sex Marriage Support At All-Time High, Even Among Groups That Opposed It

Support for same-sex marriage is growing — even among groups traditionally opposed to it — according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. The report, based on a survey conducted earlier this month, suggests public opinion is shifting quickly, two years after the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

Overall support for same-sex marriage is at its highest level since the Pew Center began polling on the issue more than two decades ago, at 62 percent in favor compared to 32 percent opposed. Support is also growing among groups that have been more skeptical than the population as a whole toward allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry.

Here are six takeways from the survey:

1. Republicans are now split

As recently as 2013, Republicans opposed same-sex marriage nearly two-to-one. They're now virtually split. The survey found that 47 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents favor allowing same-sex marriage, with 48 percent opposed.

2. Older Americans are more favorable now

The survey also found that a majority of Baby Boomers – 56 percent – now approve. That's still considerably lower than younger generations: 74 percent of millennials and 65 percent of Gen Xers expressed support. But it's the first time more than half of the Boomer generation has expressed support for same-sex marriage. Boomers are still much more favorable than their parents; only 41 percent of the Silent Generation favored same-sex marriage.

3. Among White evangelicals, there's a generational divide

There's also a generation gap among another group traditionally opposed to same-sex marriage, white evangelicals. While 59 percent of white evangelical Protestants still oppose same-sex marriage, survey data suggests opinions are changing among the younger generation. Nearly half of white evangelical millennials and Generation Xers said they support legal same-sex marriage, compared to only a quarter of evangelicals born before 1964. Pew says support from the younger group of evangelicals has increased substantially, to 47 percent now, up from 29 percent as recently as March 2016. Meanwhile, the opinions among the older group have held steady.

4. Black support nudges over 50 percent

Among African Americans, a group that historically has been less supportive than whites of same-sex marriage, 51 percent now express support. That's up 12 points from Pew's survey in 2015.

5. Religion matters

Overall, weekly attenders of any type of religious service were less likely to support same-sex marriage, at just 39 percent compared with 75 percent of those who attend less than weekly. Protestants were less likely than the nation as a whole to support same-sex marriage, at 48 percent; Catholics were somewhat more likely than the overall figure of 62 percent in favor, at 67 percent. Support for same-sex marriage was markedly higher, 85 percent, among Americans with no religious affiliation.

6. Gender, income, and education also make a difference

Overall, women were somewhat more likely than men to support same-sex marriage (64 vs. 60 percent, respectively). Support for same-sex marriage also increased with more income and a higher level of education. For people with a post-graduate education, 79 percent approved compared with 53 percent of people with a high school education or less.

The growth in public support for same-sex marriage comes at a time when the issue is still a matter of public debate and litigation. On Monday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its 2015 ruling recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, and said that states should give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to issuing birth certificates. The Court also agreed to take a case about whether a cake shop owner near Denver should be allowed to refuse to create wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples because of his religiously based opposition to same-sex marriage.

Pew surveyed 2,504 adults in the United States from June 8-18. Respondents were asked, "Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?" The poll's margin of sampling error was 2.3 percentage points for all respondents, 2.7 percent for white respondents and 7.3 percent for black respondents; it included 1,737 white, 241 black, and 297 Hispanic respondents. The margin was 3.5 percent for Republican and Republican-leaning respondents and 3.2 percent for Democrat and Democrat-leaning respondents.

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Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.