Gay marriage is continuing to gain acceptance among the public -- the latest survey
from the Pew Research Center shows Americans almost evenly split between those who oppose and those who support same-sex marriage.
According to the poll, conducted during the last week of February, 45 percent of Americans say gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, up from 37 percent in 2009 (and just 27 percent in 1996) while 46 percent oppose same-sex marriage, down from 54 percent two years ago, and down from a 65 percent disapproval rate in 1996.
remain stark, with 57 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents backing gay marriage. Only one in four Republicans support the right of gays to marry, but that is up from 15 percent in 1996.
Newly released data from the General Social Surveys
(GSS) shows an even more striking shift, with a solid majority of 46 percent supporting gay marriage and just 40 percent in opposition.
As Charles Franklin notes
at the Huffington Post, recent polls on same-sex marriage show approval for for civil unions, which was once considered by many to be the "safe alternative" to gay marriage, has remained flat while support for same-sex marriage itself has surged. And the rise is occurring not only among younger Americans.
"The trends here show that opposition to gay marriage is becoming a less and less acceptable position through the public more generally," Franklin writes. "It is not merely the young who are shifting views. While individual states are certain to vary widely in the balance of public opinion, the national shift is so striking and so regular that it is hard to imagine this issue will remain in doubt for much longer."
The latest shift is especially notable in that it comes as social conservatives have drawn a line in the sand against gay marriage, and just after President Obama announced his administration would no longer argue in court on behalf of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
But Republicans are ascendant in Washington and in statehouses across the country. And pollsters note that the public often reacts to shifts in political power by backing issues of the party that is perceived to be losing influence, preferring that lawmakers not go too far one way, especially on uncomfortable and polarizing issues like gay marriage and abortion.
In fact, support for legal abortion dropped from 55 percent to 47 percent in the first year of Obama's term, perhaps reflecting concerns that he would move too far too fast in liberalizing abortion rights. Support for abortion rights had since rebounded, the recent Pew survey shows, to 54 percent -- again a possible backlash against the GOP's sweeping takeover of the U.S. House in January and the Republican decision to make curtailing abortion rights and funding its top priority.
Social conservatives can take some solace in the fact that the degree of support for the anti-abortion position has remained relatively stable.
But the trend lines on gay marriage do not bode well for the conservative cause, and as Politics Daily reported
, the relatively low-key Republican response to Obama's DOMA decision suggested that waning public backing is going to translate into diminishing political clout.
Indeed, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Focus on the Family's Jim Daly
last week that "it's clear that something like same-sex marriage -- indeed, almost exactly what we would envision by that -- is going to become normalized, legalized, and recognized in the culture."
"It's time," Mohler added, "for Christians to start thinking about how we're going to deal with that."