Public acceptance of same-sex marriage has grown at an accelerating pace, with approval jumping by nine percentage points in the past two years and the nation now evenly divided on the issue, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.
The poll, conducted in late September and early October, showed 46% of Americans surveyed support legalizing same-sex marriage and 44% are opposed. The survey among 2,410 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
It is one of several released this year showing the public evenly divided or very narrowly favoring same-sex marriage rights.
Since the mid-1990s, support for same-sex marriage had been growing by a couple of percentage points each year, according to polls by Pew and others. Younger voters support legalizing same-sex marriage considerably more than their elders, and the gradual shift in public acceptance occurred as younger people entered the voting population and older ones died
But in the last few years, as states have begun to legalize same-sex marriage, people at all age levels have shifted position on the subject. That has driven a much more rapid change in overall public opinion, the new polling shows.
Members of the baby boom generation (aged 47-65), for example, opposed same-sex marriage in 1996 by more than 2 to 1. But in the latest poll, the margin had narrowed to 42% to 48%. Similar shifts have taken place among Americans older than 65. Among those younger than the baby boomers, same-sex marriage has majority support. Among Americans aged 18-30, support for legalization is now at 59%.
Nonwhites remain considerably less supportive than whites of same-sex marriage, however. Among whites in the survey, 50% said they supported legalization. Among nonwhites, the figure was 39%. That held true across age levels. Among Americans under 30, for example, 67% of whites supported legalization compared with 48% of nonwhites.