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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Do ‘Most Americans’ Agree with Romney on Gay Marriage?

The Republican party chairman claims “most Americans” agree with Mitt Romney “that marriage ought to be defined between one man and one woman.” Americans are closely divided on the issue. Various polls show either a slight plurality or majority of Americans support same-sex marriages, although sometimes within the margin of error.

This much is clear: American attitudes have been trending in support of gay marriage for the past few years, as this Gallup poll chart shows:

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, addressed the issue while appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on May 13 — just four days after President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriages.

Priebus, May 13: On the one hand, you have Barack Obama who is now I guess going to promote and perhaps crusade for this issue, and we have Mitt Romney, who’s been consistent and I think in line with most Americans which is that marriage ought to be defined between one man and one woman.

Public attitudes toward same-sex marriage have been shifting in recent years and major polling organizations now find that a slight plurality — and in some cases a majority — of Americans support gay marriage:

  • Gallup last May found that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage: 53 percent to 45 percent. It was the first time since Gallup started asking the question in 1996 that a majority of Americans favored legal gay marriages. A Gallup poll released this month reported statistically similar results: 50 percent to 48 percent in favor of same-sex marriages.
  • Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in a poll taken in April, found 47 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while 43 percent were opposed. Like Gallup, Pew has been tracking public opinion on the issue for years and it, too, has found a gradual but pronounced shift in public opinion over the decade.
  • A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released in March showed 49 percent support gay marriage and 40 percent oppose. The Journal wrote: “That represents a flip from October 2009, when 49% were opposed and 41% were in favor.”
  • A Washington Post-ABC News poll also released in March found similar results: 52 percent supported gay marriage and 43 percent opposed it.
  • The New York Times-CBS poll over the years has asked the question differently, giving poll respondents the option of “civil unions” or marriage. In that case, the majority of Americans support legal recognition for same-sex couples, although not necessarily marriage. The most recent poll — which was released a day after Priebus appeared on “Meet the Press” — showed 38 percent support gay marriages, 24 support civil unions, and 33 oppose any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press,” noted that support for gay marriage has been rising in the polls in recent years — including among Republicans. Priebus dismissively acknowledged that “there are [polling] companies out there calling 400 and 600 people and releasing these results.” But, he added, “if you look at the 32 states across America where people actually ask this question, ‘Do you believe marriage should be between one man and one woman?’ And every single case, including North Carolina, the answer was yes.”

It’s true that voters in 31 states approved constitutional amendments that define marriage as between one man and one woman — most recently in North Carolina. But in August 2010, the New York Times reported that support for gay marriage had increased in every state since the mid-1990s — including those states with constitutional amendments banning it. In fact, support for same-sex marriage reached 50 percent or better in five of the 31 states that have outlawed it. That includes Hawaii, which banned gay marriage in 1998 but now permits civil unions, and California, where a federal ruling overturning the ban is on appeal.

So, there’s not enough evidence to say that “most Americans” agree with Romney — or with Obama, for that matter. The issue has divided Americans, although the trend is clearly in support of gay marriages.

— Eugene Kiely