Polling Trends on Same-Sex Marriage

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

News reports for several years have trumpeted rising poll numbers in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  About six months ago, the poll numbers purportedly crossed the line to majority support.

A recent study by Rice University calls those results into question. The study is unique because it asked the question of the same people, six years apart.  Over 1,300 people were asked in 2006 and again in 2012 their level of agreement with this statement:  “The only legal marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

There was no statistically significant change in opinion from 2006 to 2012.  In 2006, 57% agreed with the statement, and in 2012, 53% agreed with the statement (within the margin of error of the poll).  In 2006, 31% disagreed with the statement, while in 2012, 33% disagreed with the statement.  On its face, this poll shows that a majority of Americans favor the traditional definition of marriage, while only about a third favor changing that definition.

What is more intriguing, however, is to see how many people changed their minds over the six years.  Of those who agreed with the traditional definition of legal marriage in 2006, one-quarter moved away from that opinion in 2012.  At the same time, of those who disagreed with the traditional definition of marriage in 2006, 40% moved away from that opinion in 2012.  The more who moved away from favoring legal same-sex marriage were offset by undecided persons who shifted to favor same-sex marriage, so that the overall percentages remained about the same.

These results belie the pervasive media storyline that people are overwhelmingly changing their opinion to favor legalizing same-sex marriage.  In fact, if I did my math correctly, almost as many people switched from pro-gay marriage to pro-traditional marriage as went the other way.

For more analysis on why the poll numbers vary from one polling organization to another, see the excellent follow-up article by Mark Regenerus.

My takeaways?

  1. Many people are still changing their minds on the advisability of legalizing same-sex marriage.  The debate is not over in this country.
  2. It is profitable for Christians to make the arguments in favor of traditional male-female monogamous marriage in a winsome way, since even those who at one time favored same-sex marriage are open to reconsidering their viewpoint.
  3. Support for same-sex marriage is not as strong in the U.S. as some polls make it out to be.  We should not look at it as a foregone conclusion that it will become legal in every state soon.
  4. Regardless of our opinion about legalizing same-sex marriage, we should be reaching out with love and respect to our gay and lesbian neighbors, coworkers, and family members.  They are people whom God loves infinitely, and we have an opportunity to help introduce them to Jesus and nurture their growth as a disciple.  The last thing we should be doing is bashing, insulting, or disrespecting anybody, including gays and lesbians.  To do so is to fail to reflect the love of Christ for them.

What do you think?