Why the majority of people now favor marriage equality

Lisa Wade of Sociological Images posted her comments on a recent Pew survey that explains why the "the majority of Americans are in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples."

People offered a range of reasons for why they changed their minds. The most common response involved coming into contact with someone that they learned was homosexual. A third of respondents said that knowing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person was influential in making them rethink their position on gay marriage. This is consistent with the Contact Hypothesis, the idea that (positive) experiences with someone we fear or dislike will result in changes of opinion.

Why the majority of people now favor marriage equality


  1. “There is one judge, and i am not that one judge”

    Such a good perspective, if only more of the religious in this nation would embrace that! 

    1. Indeed. It is a bit “Ok fine, get married, you’ll burn in hell for it but whatever” which may be disturbing, but its good to see. I wish people (edit: More people! Many already do) with deeply held religious views would take such a stance rather than legislating their personal morality onto everyone. If your god hands out divine punishment for some earthly action, why the need for earthly laws preventing or punishing it as well, if said action is not offensive to society of the day.

      1. Why would anyone consider it their business if someone else is violating their god’s laws. It makes even less sense to care if that someone else is violating a different god’s laws.

        1. Because if they can flaunt your god’s laws with impunity then maybe your god is not so powerful.
          In one word: insecurity.

        2. You’d think, eh?  Unfortunately, anytime you mix religion with rational thinking you get a pretty messy result.

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      2. “Ok fine, get married, you’ll burn in hell for it but whatever” which may be disturbing, but its good to see

        Since those same people are inclined to think the same thing about people who go to church on the wrong day, I’ll take it

      3.  I have heard/read comments from people who think God will punish the world for allowing homosexuality (let alone gay marriage) … so maybe that is why they see the need for earthly laws?

  2. I know someone who is friendly, accepting, giving and caring, yet comes from a conservative, religious background. She had her eyes opened when she found out that her son is gay. Fortunately, her accepting ways led her quickly down the good path.

    1. Fruity. 

      People actually still use that word in reference to homosexuality?

      I bet the homosexuals you know really love it when you call them “fruits.”

  3. the thing that saddens me is that “equal rights” is so far down the list. can people really not think in the abstract?

        1. Also, we aren’t programmed to give a shit about people we don’t know. Compassion is not natural, it’s learned. Or not.

    1.  I actually found this incredibly disheartening. It really points to the shallowness of this victory. People are no more inclined to do the right thing than they were before, we’ve just finally managed to carve out an additional exception in their brainspace. It’s frustrating and demoralizing, to in many ways have achieved victory to realize how hollow the victory really is.

      1. I find your comment incredibly disheartening.  

        One must accept before they can embrace.

        1. What this means is if you don’t have enough money, support, or numbers, don’t count on these people to do the right thing. They are still hateful, bigoted, prejudiced, intolerant and completely dismissive of the rights of others that aren’t part of the mainstream or whose oppression doesn’t effect them personally. But hey, at least you’re okay if you’re gay, right?

          Don’t get me wrong, it’s an improvement. But it means that fundamentally, nothing has changed except that some people who were once considered “outside the tribe” now get to treated as “inside the tribe”.

          1. Continuing on, accepting is the only necessary step.  One does not need to embrace those different than themselves if they do not desire to do so.  I don’t have to embrace you, just accept you.  Even though I may not like who or what you are or what you represent or believe in, I must still treat you with a certain degree of respect and recognize and uphold your rights as a human being and as a citizen of this country.

            That said, I embrace homosexuals, both literally and figuratively.  But I don’t expect everyone else to.  I do expect them to accept homosexuals and treat them as they would any other human being.    

            Perhaps what you seek to fundamentally change is fundamentally flawed.

          2.  The problem with that expectation, is how some people are prepared to treat ANY other human being…

          3.  I hear you.  There are other subsets of US citizens waiting for their chance to gain equal  human and civil rights.  Everything has to be aligned just right for that to happen, each time, for each group.  There’s no overriding sense of “let’s make things equal for everyone, period” involved….just one group at a time finally managing to shinny up the tree to the special clubhouse.

      2. As I recall, there was a lot of discussion about the importance of “coming out” to friends, family, and co-workers back in the 80s and 90s. The idea was that people would be won to support gay rights through empathy for people they knew. This was a strategy, carefully considered, and followed through, with years of courage and patience. And it looks like the strategy is working.

        This is not a hollow victory at all.

        1. I mean, if your goal was to make people into different, better beings who are kinder to everyone?  Sure, maybe it’s hollow.  People are pretty resistant to that sort of thing.  

          If your goal was to be gay in public?  YAY WE’RE WINNING!  :)  

          1. It seems to me that a fundamental, recurring lesson is that it is almost always best to set aside the abstractions and look at what is real; that abstractions cannot be trusted until you’ve tested whether they correspond to reality.

            An abstraction that has not been tested is hollow.

            Much of the struggle for winning support for gay rights has been about questioning abstractions and insisting on looking at what is real. Conservatives insist on abstract definitions of love, sex, and marriage that do not correspond to the real desires and relationships of anyone, not even of tradition-minded conservatives.

            Equality is an abstract idea. It only makes sense as a political demand if you already understand that there are two comparable things which could and should be equal.

            It seems to me that  compassion means looking at the real people around you, what they really feel, and that this cannot be encompassed in an abstract formula.

    2.  While I sympathize, your concern in this case seems somewhat irrelevant. Assuming that those polled only got to choose one response, the majority choice could easily include many people who would have otherwise gone with the “equal rights” option.

      This is an issue in which many  people probably could only be swayed through personal experience. The abstract is just that when dealing with human equality; rights are just words until you love someone who doesn’t have the ones they deserve.

      If one person wants to stop climate change because it will have disastrous effects on the economy, another because God told them to be good stewards of Creation, and another because they just don’t want to drown, I could care less. The important thing is that three more people are motivated to do something about climate change. Y’know?

      1. well that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

        as a society we’ve been through this many times: slavery, womens suffrage, anti-miscegenation laws, womens’ rights, etc. given how all of those worked out, you’d think that sooner or later it would dawn on americans that equal rights are equal rights.

        that’s why it’s sad.

      2. The world is big enough for this to constitute both a success in some sense and a failure in another.  If you can sympathize with seeing it as a failure but also see how it can be viewed as a victory then great.  I don’t see either aspect as being “irrelevant”.

        Difficult for we poor, binary-logic-addled primates to hold in our minds simultaneously, maybe, but not “irrelevant.” The word “ambivalent” used to mean something, you know.

    3. If you’d ask me that twenty years ago, before I knew a mentor, I’d have said equal rights was the most important issue. But, due to her imporance in my life, now I think of her first. She was someone who took me under her wing early in my adulthood, she always supported me, protected me and did her best to guide me to success and happiness. Of course it’s a basic equal rights issue, but having had her in my life, I feel that the Santorums of the world are threatening a dear person in my life, and I feel that more viscerally than it “just” being an equal rights issue. While i’m not someone who was opposed to gay marriage, I think knowing someone is what people think of rather than the abstract notion of equal rights.

    4. Yeah my philosophy is that if we support unequal rights for some, then then society will start restricting my rights as well. I don’t want that so I support liberty as a general rule.

      1. Selfish but perhaps a good way to put it. ‘If your’re fine with some people being marginalized as they are ‘other’… how long until you are also classed that way?’

    5. Of course people can think in the abstract. But any reasoning in the abstract must start from some premise that is given. Compassion and empathy seem to me to be good sources for your premises for thinking about social questions.

  4. Curiously, “NONE OF MY DAMN BUSINESS” didn’t make the list. 

    Oh well.  Progress is progress.

    1. I think that is unlikely to be a reason for “changing” your opinion.  If you cared before, why do you no longer care?

      Edit: Although I have to say “Everyone is free to choose” does seem to overlap a lot with “None of my business”

      1. One can come to the conclusion that it is none of their damn business despite having formerly maintained a position to the contrary.

        No fluff required.

      2. That is a good point. Presumably most people surveyed always BELIEVED they supported basic civil rights for all. The difference is that something changed their idea of what “basic civil rights” encompasses.

  5. This is why coming out of the closet, whichever closet you’re in, is so important. The cannabis closet, the atheist closet, etc. The more people learn that those with different views are otherwise just like them the sooner we’ll have a saner world. 

    1. Which is not to say anyone should come out if they don’t think they’ll be safe.

      Just have to toss that in there. There’s tremendous internal and external pressure to come out of the closet(s).  I’m a huge fan of being out for personal and political reasons.  I just don’t want people to feel they have to come out if they’re not safe.

      Queer kids experience family rejection and homelessness at a frighteningly high rate.  Still.  Advice is usually “If you’re afraid your family might throw you out, and you don’t have a backup plan, it might be a better idea to wait until you’re out of the house.”  

  6. It’s hard to look at these data without thinking that opponents of marriage equality don’t have a lot of friends, since knowing someone who is LGBTQI is the biggest factor in changing peoples’ minds. And it seems the number of friends opponents of marriage equality do have is shrinking.

    1. Unfortunately, their gay friends are more likely to be closeted, since that circle of friends is unaccepting of homosexuality. It’s a vicious circle.

      I’ve spent all my life in the gay-friendly world, so I find it hard to imagine living among people who aren’t, but they exist by the millions. I certainly don’t seek them out as friends.

      1. I’ve spent my (young) adult life in an elite east coast liberal private university and then here in liberal (coastal) California – in other words, the gay-friendly world – and I still have occasionally run into homophobic assholes in those settings. It’s jarring. It does help me understand what the rest of the country is like, I suppose.

        How those people manage to have any friends in gay-friendly settings amazes me, but I suspect a lot of people are more lenient toward assholes than you or I might be. The vicious circle you describe is undoubtedly quite common (even in what seems like the gay-friendly world), and really rather sad.

    2. I think geography remains a huge factor.  It’s easy not to know gay people if you and nearly everyone else in your physical location are incredibly anti-gay.  Queer people stay closeted or emigrate.

      People who stay in those places, and come out of the closet, are the reason I’ve met lovely people from tiny rural towns who, if you mention queerness, will go on a rant about “that nice boy down on depot road, and if you knew him you’d know there’s nothing at all wrong with it” or “what, do you have a problem with Jen and Heather?”  The first time someone jumped down my throat in defense of a local queer person, I was so incredibly happy.  (And promptly outed myself to them.)

  7. Anyone else gobsmacked that we’ve seen this sea change in our lifetimes? Not one kid I knew in high school was out. Got on FB and they are all gay (practically). Now my high school has a gay mayor (class president)!

    1. I was out in 1972. Both my high school guidance counselors were gay and regularly brought their same-sex partners to school functions. Although I bet that by the 80s, everyone was back in the closet.

    2. It floors me pretty regularly.  I grew up in the 80s, which were absolutely horrible.  I came out in the 90s.  No one in my highschool was out – the people who got outed got badly hurt.  I was beaten up a few times just because of rumors.  Still can’t use locker rooms.  

      I don’t have the perspective of those older than me who saw us making gains in the 70s and then losing ground in the 80s.  I grew up alongside AIDS…  with the anti-gay rhetoric of that time absolutely everywhere.  I didn’t have a single queer role model or know anyone out and queer at all until I was well into high school.  My story is one of utter isolation and fear.

      So yeah, this happening during my lifetime?  It’s awesome.  Every time I hold hands in public I’m thrilled to know I’m still part of the change.  :)

      1. Love you tagline! 

        I’m sorry to read about your experiences and glad you are experiencing acceptance now.

        1. Thanks for the tagline love.  I started using it a couple of years ago when I was wrangling with some very heteronormative geeks around here.  Thanks, also, for the good thoughts.  :)

          I didn’t mean to make it all sound so…  dramatic.  I mean, growing up gay where I was, when I was?  It was pretty awful.  But also completely run-of-the-mill.  Most of us my age had the same experiences, some a bit better, some a bit worse.  

          And yeah, things have gotten a lot better for me personally, and where I grew up, queerness is pretty normal these days.  I know we have a long way to go, but I can’t help but celebrate the victories.

          1. If you want to know my reason for supporting marriage equality, it’s because I’m pretty sure my best friend in high school was gay or bi. I know he was having closeted gay sexual relationships. His open hetero relationships were awful; he was controlling and plain mean toward his girlfriends. 

            From what I knew of his gay relationships, they sounded more fulfilling to him, though even as his good friend I only heard whispers from others about this part of his life.

            He did a lot of drugs; his senior year, after I’d graduated, he dropped tons of acid. I learned through a mutual friend that he’d burned himself out pretty hard from that.

            I don’t know if he would have done the drugs anyway, but, if he could have been openly gay or bi without fear, I wonder if he would have avoided that self-destructive path.

            When I had so many old high school and childhood friends turn out to be gay, it seems like now in the open they are fine. I realize that they must have lived with such fear and shame when they were young. It seems so unfair that they had to hide like that.

  8.  I’m unconvinced by the reasons offered in the article- I think those are rationalizations given by those who are asked to think about it, rather than underlying causes.

    The people who cared deeply in favor were able to overcome the people who cared deeply against. The vast majority who didn’t care that much then acknowledged that victory. That’s how any human rights advance is made.

    1. While I agree that people often give post-hoc rationalizations for their moral sentiments, I think the reasons stated in the study actually make more sense than your explanation.  People are highly motivated by emotional connections to other people and so the idea that people’s ideas on homosexuality would change by acknowledging emotional connections to gay folks is a really plausible explanation.

      “The vast majority who didn’t care that much” doesn’t seem to correspond to reality to me and I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “overcome” here.  That is, you’re talking in vague generalities and not offering any evidence for your claims whereas the study gets specific and offers evidence.

      At least one person in this thread has directly stated, “Yes, this is how my views on homosexuality were changed.” You can dismiss this as anecdote or dismiss the person as not understanding their own motivations but it seems more reasonable to me to take it as a proof of principle.

      1. Thanks, good response.

        I personally know many people whose perspectives on homosexuality changed after they got to know me.  The Contact Hypothesis seems like a better explanation than some “people want to be on the winning side” thing.  And any explanation that discounts the work we’ve all done in this struggle for acceptance sucks.  It’s been hard work, and I’ve been doing it a long time.

        Ultimately, queer people are not that different from cishet people – we are more similar than different.  Once straights know some queers as people, they can stop magnifying the differences and get back to acknowledging samenesses.  What, we can talk about books and movies and sports?  We like to cook or garden or walk dogs?  We work in jobs we hate or love or think are okay for now but we’re not sure?  We raise kids who alternately delight us and break our hearts?  

        I’ve personally seen this process so many times.  I’ve been at the center of it.  It happens.  :)

  9. Daniel said it’s going to happen, and Jesus said it’s going to be worse than anything ever before. One would not want to be found resisting the prophecy.

  10. Now if we can just introduce these folks to a few liberals, that term might become less of a pejorative.  They might even realize that their own deeply held views on many public issues are – surprise! – a lot more like progressives’ than conservatives’.

  11. Because old idiotic bigots are dying out and religion is increasingly irrelevant, that’s why.

    Good riddance. Anyone opposing gay marriage know this: your kids will live in a world of equality and I hope that scares you. If you pass on your homophobia then your children will be society’s outcasts. Your opinion is shit and based on a presumption that an invisible being both exists and dictates how you should live. Your views are completely ridiculous and I, along with a lot of thinking people who have more tact than to say it, judge you as simpleminded for holding those beliefs.

    This is the millennium of reverse religious discrimination and nothing makes me happier.

  12. Worked for me. 
    I’d have been hard-pressed to give a rational reason for my opposition but I certainly opposed homosexuality (leftover from a then-abandoned Baptist upbringing, no doubt). Until I found that a guy I really liked and admired was gay…I can really say that the scales fell from my eyes that night. Does it make me an idiot that I didn’t rationally work this out before, or reject my bigoted ways before it became personal? If so, ok. But the impetus to make me challenge my belief was the personal connection with a gay man…I just couldn’t square my knowledge of this great guy with my negative opinion of gays….and the person in front of me won.

    Thanks, Roby!

  13. There is a difference between marriage equality and extending marriage to same-sex couples.  Marriage equality would also include allowing close relatives to marry and marriages of more than two people.

    1. No, no it wouldn’t. There are genetic reasons getting married to a close relative is not a good idea and protecting the genes of the children that could be a product of that marriage is a significant part of the reason it’s not allowed.

      Also I think including marriages of more than two people, while perfectly legitimate in my mind, is complicated by the legal implications of such a decision. Many of our laws involving shared income taxation and healthcare choices are based on the assumption of having one partner.

      Allowing homo/transsexuals to marry one person would make the laws equal with current laws for heterosexuals – That’s the definition of equality.

  14. People are evolving on this issue mainly for ONE simple reason.  They don’t want to be called “bigots” and “haters”.   The left has mounted an attack.  the have attacked anyone who doesn’t agree with them on this extremely complex issue.  If you have the courage to speak your mind on this issue, and you are not supportive of homosexual “marriage”, then you will eventually be viciously attacked, and vilified as a “homophobic”, knuckle dragging, assbackwards, red neck.  People simply have moved on from the issue because to most folks the issue isn’t important enough to endure such slurs, so they, “evolve”.   

    This really is not a matter of opinion.   The FACT is that marriage is what it is.  It is a union between one and and one woman.  it cannot be arbitrarily re-defined so that same sex couples can fantasize that they are actually Man and Wife.   You see in a marriage you have to have a bride (woman) and you have to have a groom (man).  Without those components in place, there is NO marriage.   That’s NOT to say that homosexuals cannot fall in love.  That is NOT to say that HOMOSEXUALS cannot be in committed relationships.   Homosexual couples can be in a monogamous, loving relationship, which can be a wonderful thing, but it isn’t “marriage”.   SMH!   

  15. This is the new age. Today, there are many couples in which the equality is so common and even necessary. Couples plan to share the expenses and responsibility. I don’y know too much men in which do not need the woman salary.
    This equality boost the market as well. One’s of biggest market is related to fashion. When we talk about e-commerce, the female market is very strong, we have many virtual stores that sell only for women, like Panapaná. And it is a very profitable market.
    God bless women!

  16. My cynical thought:

    So when is this effect going to work for womens’ equality?  I’m pretty sure 100% of human beings knows at least one woman.

    1. Sadly, human behavior is never explained entirely by any one mechanism.  No, wait, that’s not sad.  That’s a very good thing…

  17. I think the Massachusetts legal ruling against civil unions had a big effect on how people viewed this too. That’s when, it seemed to me, the tide turned.

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