Huge tidal changes in opinion are rare in modern-day American politics, yet there is one issue in which there has been a significant shift in public opinion recently. Over the past decade, same-sex marriage has seen one of the largest shifts in public opinion over any policy issue. Several states such as Washington, New York, and Maryland have already passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.
On the public polling level same sex marriage is popular among the adult American populace. A Washington Post-ABC News poll that asked whether it should be legal or illegal for LGBT couples to get married had 58% of respondents say it should be legal, with a mere 36% saying it should be illegal. A Quinnipiac University poll has support for same-sex marriage at 47% for, 43% against. The Pew Research Center recently released as poll showing support for same-sex marriage at 49% for, 44% opposed. The Pew Research poll warrants further investigation, as it compares trends in same-sex marriage public support from 2003 to 2013.
The most striking fact is the change in opinion among the millennial generation. In 2003 their support for same-sex marriage was barely over 51%. But in just a decade, support has shot up like a rocket to 70%. Among all other generations support for same-sex marriage has increased, Generation X has seen an increase of 41% to 49%, Baby Boomers of 33% to 38%, and the Silent Generation of 17% to 31%. The report points out that while millennials have high levels of support for same-sex marriage, they also make up a larger percentage of the adult population. In 2003 they composed 9% of the adult population. This ballooned to 27% of the adult population in 2013.
An important component is how many people actually changed their minds and why they did, which the report goes into in detail. It finds that one in seven, 14%, have changed their minds about same-sex marriage. Conversely nearly everyone opposed (41%) to same-sex marriage say they have always been against it.
When it comes to the reason people changed their minds, the polls show that simply knowing someone who is homosexual is the most clear reason for changing opinion. Despite claims that some kind of homosexual (or liberal) agenda is tricking people into support of same-sex marriage, it is clear that simply interacting with a homosexual person and seeing that they are same as anyone else makes a huge difference in removing the otherization that the past has placed on homosexuals. The second leading reason for changing opinions was simply becoming more open to the idea, thinking it over, or growing older.
This can be clearly seen by the increasing percentage of people who say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Nearly every demographic group says homosexuality should be accepted. The only three demographics that are still opposed are Republicans overall (54% opposed), conservative Republicans (59%), and white evangelical protestants (61%). Millennials had one of the highest rates of acceptance of homosexuality at 74%. Only liberal Democratic voters (82%) and the religiously unaffiliated (83%) had higher acceptance rates.
Same-sex marriage has gone from a matter of "if" to a matter of "when." The change in public opinion over the last decade shows no trend of slowing down. The massive change in public opinion will only make opposition on the part of elected officials more toxic electorally. As millennials continue to make up an increasingly larger part of the electorate, any politicians wishing to court them will have to take into account their stance on same-sex marriage. Combined with the increasing support for same-sex marriage by all other generations, we may see support for same-sex marriage become the default acceptable opinion of the populace, with opposition being in the same league as those who oppose interracial marriage. Opponents to same-sex marriage will be seeing their ranks grow older and fewer as the days go on. Supporters of same-sex marriage will see their ranks being filled by everyone.