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A Love Story: How America Came to Accept Same-Sex Marriage

A Love Story: How America Came to Accept Same-Sex Marriage


Written by Marina Adshade, a Big Think blogger

A love story for the 21st century (cue the violins). Several years ago a very close family friend in Vancouver was searching our family name on the Internet and had the good fortune to meet up with the wife of my cousin in South Africa. The two women became friends and eventually fell in love. Divorce (from my cousin) and marriage between them followed (essentially, since marriage laws in South Africa weren’t quite there yet). Canadian immigration law allowed my cousin’s now former wife to enter the country (with my little second cousins) as the wife of our good friend and they have lived (very) happily ever after.

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At the time the big question was this: Who was going to tell Dad? I loved my father but he had not exactly left us with the impression that he was on-board with same-sex marriage. But, as it turned out he didn’t need to be told (while he may not have had liberal views he certainly wasn’t naive) and to our surprise he was thrilled that they had found happiness in each other. I never would have seen that coming.

In 1996 Gallop conducted a poll in the US that asked the question: “Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” In that poll 68% indicated that they should not. In a poll in May of this year, in response to a similar question (“Do you think marriages between same-sex couples….”), only 45% expressed the same opinion. In only 15 years there has been an incredible 23% decline in opposition.

It seems like people, like my father, are capable of changing their long standing opinions.

A new paper published in Social Science Quarterly decomposes this trend and asks how this change in attitude has taken place. Specifically, the authors want to know how much of the trend has been caused by a change in cohorts (as the young replace the old in the sample) and how much has been a change in individual opinion about same-sex marriage.

The authors find that the change in cohorts is responsible for only 1/3 of the change in attitudes between 1988 and 2006 (the last year of available data). If they were able to look right up until 2011, with the change in opinion accelerating over time, I suspect that this effect would be even smaller.

So many people have changed their minds about same-sex marriage; the effect we observe is not just the replacement of the less accepting older generation with the more accepting younger generation.

So, who has changed their mind and who has not?

  • Young people between the ages of 18 to 29 have changed their opinion more than people over the age of 30.
  • Women have changed their opinion more than have men.
  • Whites and people of other races and ethnicities changed opinion more that have Blacks. In fact, the opinion of people in that community has remained almost unchanged (71% opposed same-sex marriage in 1988 compared to 69% in 2006).
  • Those who live in the western states have changed their opinion less than in any other region of the country (in fairness they started out being more accepting) and those in the North East have changed their opinion the most.
  • Those living in cities changed their opinion more than those in rural areas.
  • Those who are more educated changed their opinion less than those who are less educated.
  • Evangelical Protestants changed their opinion less than less than have non-evangelicals.
  • Democrats have changed their opinion more than have Republicans.

The authors of this paper argue that this change has taken place because people in these groups have come to accept that the legalization of same-sex marriage is an equality issue rather than a moral issue. I have to wonder though if these are the groups in which people have come to observe marriages between people of the same gender. It is much harder to be opposed to same-sex marriage when you see your neighbors, your colleagues or your family members happily united.

My father came from a very traditional, male-dominated (South African) back ground. If he had survived today would have been his 81st birthday.  At the end of his life he not only accepted, but embraced, the concept of same-sex marriage. His grandchildren have never had to make that journey; they accept these types of unions as perfectly normal.

We live in an era of social change and while it may appear that public opinion is converging in favour of same-sex marriage what we observe is that opinion is actually diverging over across racial, regional, religious and political divides. Social observers might be well advised to watch how this change evolves over time. I know I will.

This post was originally published by Big Think.

Related Stories:

Poll: Rapid Increase in Support for Gay Marriage

3 in 10 Americans Say They Take the Bible Literally

House Court Memo: Gays Are Politically Powerful

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Photo from Fibonacci Blue via flickr Creative Commons

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4:38PM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

Well can you post a link to that story or say the title so that I can research it?

2:10PM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

@ Vernon C. I didn't 500 years ago, I 500 year old that is ~500 BCE. ~2500 years ago.

1:26PM PDT on Sep 4, 2011


500 years ago? You seem to be confused about who are guilty of plagiary. The accounts of the birth of Jesus re. the Magi were written around 2000 years ago.

11:37AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

@ Vernon. No not just that one issue, ie: The usurped Magi story, plagiarized from a 500 year old Persian Legend, complete with the birth of a King, star & all.

10:27AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

So because of one issue which you do not understand that happened 2000 years ago, it means that the Nativity story has no basis.

Amusing as this is, it is still sad. Sad because it is views like this that some people use as the very reason why they reject the Bible. They nitpick over some minuscule issue that has nothing at all to do with the point of the story & they use that as the basis for their rejection. They completely forget that some of these writers were not scholars, that the original texts were written in a discontinued language & were translated, that the slang used in that time were different than in the time of the translation, & a host of reasons why there were these small differences. Yet they discard an entire account because of some issue with geographical location, extinct animals & a number of nonsensical reasons.

And of course it should be known that the gospels & most of the Books in the Bible are just the edited versions. That a lot more info is given in the full texts.

But if you believe that the Nativity has no basis because Joseph & Mary & Jesus dared to travel about the country without letting the authorities know (or without Matthew, Mark, Luke & John deliberately straying from the story that they were trying to tell, to explicitly explain in detail why they did it), then that is your view.

7:46AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

@ Vernon C. My point is that the entire Nativity story has no basis except that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem but start his ministry as a Nazarene. So somehow Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. The writer makes the census excuse which makes no logical sense.

2:12AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011


You will have to go into deeper detail because honestly I really do not understand why this is so important. I still think that you are harping on something on which the full story was not told because the emphasis of the Nativity was not on tax censuses. There are several reasons why people do things. The problem is that when the emphasis is on another subject, other side events are glossed over.
Every event has its own story & details are not given to every minor aspect. Those who wrote about the birth of Jesus would not have interviewed Joseph & asked him for every detail about why he went to to Bethlehem or not somewhere else. There are so many little things that could have caused it to happen. Who knows, maybe the angel who came to him & told him that the child was God's also told him to go to Bethlehem so that the prophesies could be fullfilled becausethe prophesy was that the Messiah would arise out of the House of David.

Other little human things couldve played a factor too. Suppose his family did not like Mary & considered him a fool for believing that she got pregnant from God, & they did not want her around them. Maybe Mary or even Joseph didnt like that side of their family. Maybe there were loopholes in the law. Maybe Joseph bribed an official or he knew someone & had a favor done.
So many reasons. These people were human & had the same issues that all people had. To come over 2000 years later & make a big deal ove

4:31PM PDT on Sep 3, 2011

@ Vernon C. ? What does what you say have to do with my questions in last post? According to you scripture Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, because he was from the house of David. My point was that he was also of the house of Judah, etc. Accordingly, Joseph didn't decdse to go to Bethlehem, Rome did.

11:59AM PDT on Sep 3, 2011


That is like asking why I choose to take vacation in England & not in Canada. The answer is because I want to. Joseph was a man. An individual. People have no reason for doing some things. They just wake up a morning & do what they please without any reason whatsoever. What I am saying is that you are reading too much into something that could easily be just one of the totally irrational decisions that people make each day.

Not to mention that he was married with a wife that was pregnant. Do you know how irrational a pregnant woman gets...especially one that has to ride hundreds of miles on camel or horseback...added to the fact that she was a virgin too & supposedly with a child that she didnt even have the pleasure of making?

I wouldnt read too much into anything Joseph did.

5:59AM PDT on Sep 3, 2011

@ Vernon C. I don't deny there was taxation. The point is there is no evidence that there was a census in which people had to return to their ancestral home town to register. Other than the fact it would have been a logistical nightmare. At the time the empire stretched from Mesopotamia to western Europe & all of North Africa. It lists that Joseph was of the house of David, why stop there He was also from the house of Judah, Jacob, Isaac & Abraham. Why didn't he have to go to Ur? Why would they be hiding from the authorities, that only occurs later when Herod, allegedly, was having his lackeys kill all male children 2 & under, over a year later.

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