The Obama administration has announced that it believes that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, is unconstitutional and will no longer defend the law in court. The administration’s announcement does not overturn the law but is seen as a positive step by advocates for gay rights. Same-sex marriage has been gaining public support over the last 15 years. In 1996, when DOMA was signed into law, nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while just 27% favored gay marriage. In 2010, two polls by the Pew Research Center, based on interviews with more than 6,000 adults, found that 42% of Americans favored same-sex marriage while 48% were opposed. This was the first time in 15 years of Pew Research Center polling that fewer than half opposed same-sex marriage. It was also a jump in support from 2009, when 37% favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. The rising support for gay marriage is broad-based, occurring across many demographic, political and religious groups. Still, many divisions remain. A 53%-majority of Democrats support gay marriage, while 69% of Republicans are opposed. Independents and other non-partisans are divided on same-sex marriage — 44% favor, 43% oppose. Generational gaps also continue — Millennials are the only age group with majority support for gay marriage while older adults remain the least supportive — but support is up substantially among all age groups since 2003. Looking at religion, pluralities of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics now favor gay marriage, while white evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly are opposed. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.