The Tipping Point: Attitudes on Same-Sex Marriage in the United States, 1988-2012
48 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2013
Date Written: 2013
This article focuses on four inter-related research questions: 1) Has the dominant issue frame in the United States shifted from the traditional issue frame rooted in morality politics to a more egalitarian issue frame? 2) As a result, has support for same-sex marriage reached permanent majority status? 3) Is the increase in support mirrored across all groups and states or is it limited to certain groups and states? 4) Have the factors that influence attitudes toward same-sex marriage changed over time? The data from this analysis come from 78 surveys with more than 120,000 respondents conducted by 16 survey organizations (1978-2013).
The current research suggests that, over time, the dominant frame used by the public to characterize the debate on same-sex marriage has shifted from a focus on morality and tradition (the morality politics frame) to a focus on equal rights and justice (the equality frame). The available survey data suggests that beliefs about the biological or genetic origins of homosexuality crossed the 50% “tipping point” in 2003-2004. Opinions on the morality of homosexuality crossed that point in 2010. Attitudes toward same-sex marriage reached majority status in 2011-2012.
The factors that influenced attitudes in the period from 1988 to 2012 remained remarkably stable. In general, Southerners, rural residents, Protestants (especially born-again), Catholics, those with more church attendance, those 65 and over, married individuals, and African-Americans had lower levels of support for same-sex marriage. Women, those with college degrees, those with high income, Democrats, and liberals all had higher levels of support. The conflict over same-sex marriage has increasingly become characterized by differences in religious intensity, partisanship, and ideology. Nevertheless, support for same-sex marriage improved steadily over time, even during the “culture war” period (although support temporarily dropped by about 5 percentage points). Support accelerated after the majority of the population shifted to the equality frame from the morality frame in 2010, reaching a majority in two years.
Keywords: sexuality, same-sex marriage, public opinion, attitude change
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