WASHINGTON — The nation’s views on gay marriage are more favorable in large part because of a shift in attitudes among those who know someone who is gay or became more accepting as they got older of gays and lesbians, according to a national survey.
The Pew Research Center poll also finds that a large group of younger adults who tend to be more open to gay rights is driving the numbers upward. The issue has grabbed the national spotlight recently with the public embrace of same-sex marriage by Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
“We’ve certainly seen the trend over the last ten years,” Michael Dimock, director of the center, said Wednesday. “But we’re now really in a position to talk about the combination of generational change and personal change that have sort of brought the country to where it is today.”
Overall, the poll finds 49 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, and 44 percent opposed to the idea. That’s more people now favoring gay marriage than opposing it. A decade ago 58 percent opposed it and a third supported it.
The 49 percent who now support same-sex marriage includes 14 percent who said they have changed their minds.
When asked why, almost one-third say it’s because they know someone who is gay — a family member, friend or acquaintance. A quarter said their personal views have changed as they thought more about the issue or just because they’ve grown older and more accepting.
One of those polled said: “My best friend from high school is a gay man, and he deserves the same rights,” adding that his friend and a partner “are in a committed relationship.”
Another person attributed the shift in attitude to “old fashioned ignorance,” and said “I grew up a little bit.”
Just 2 percent overall said their views have shifted against gay marriage.
Another major factor in the long-term shift in the public’s view: the so-called millennial generation of young adults born since 1980—today’s 18- to 32-year-olds who entered adulthood in the new millennium. The survey finds 70 percent of millennials favor same-sex marriage.