New Pew Study on Attitudes Toward Marriage

The Pew Research Center just issued a very interesting study about marriage and children. The study can be fodder for many different blog posts--for example, it shows that children have become much less important to marriage than in years past--but I would like to focus on what it says about public attitudes about gay marriage and civil unions. The short version is that public opposition to gay marriage and civil unions actually increased in the last year, but the public is split down the middle on civil unions.

Here are some highlights:

Currently, a clear majority (57%) of the public opposes allowing gays and lesbians to marry, up from 51% in March of 2006, but roughly similar to the levels of opposition registered in 2003 and 2004. The groups most likely to take issue with gay marriage include men, older adults (ages 50 and above), the less educated (high school or less), Protestants (particularly white evangelicals), and regular church attendees (weekly or more).

Significant partisan differences also emerge on this issue. Democrats are divided, with slightly more opposing gay marriage (48% vs. 42%). Republicans, by a margin of
better than five-to-one, oppose gay marriage (78% vs. 14%).

The public is more closely divided on whether gay and lesbian couples should be
allowed to form legally recognized civil unions that would give them many of the
same rights as married couples, with slightly more people opposing it than supporting it (46% vs. 45%). Public support of civil unions has not been this low since October of 2003. As with gay marriage, white evangelical Protestants (71%), frequent church attendees (64%) and Republicans (60%) stand out for their opposition to civil unions.

When asked about the trend of more gay and lesbian couples raising children, exactly half (50%) of the public says this is bad for society, compared with 34% who say it
doesn’t make much difference and 11% who say it is good for society. More men (59%) than women (42%) say gay parenting is bad for society. Among women, opposition to gay and lesbian couples raising children has declined in the past decade. In a
1997 survey of women only, a majority (56%) said this was a bad thing for society, compared with 42% saying this today. The negative reaction has fallen across the board among women, regardless of age, education and marital status.

You can read a summary of the report here.

The full report is here.

What is surprising about this study is that it shows such a decrease in support for both civil unions and gay marriage in the past year. Other surveys have suggested the contrary. Still Pew does great work, and it may be that they have indeed identified a trend. The real question is why? And it would be interesting to examine whether there is anything unique happening in states like Vermont or Massachusetts that have had several years experience with civil unions or gay marriage.


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