As courts and legislatures address the question of whether same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, public support for gay marriage continues to grow. Polls in 2011 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that an average of 45% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally; about the same percentage (46%) opposes gay marriage. That marked the first time in 15 years of polling that the public has been evenly divided over this issue.

Just two years earlier, in 2009, a clear majority (54%) opposed gay marriage while just 37% favored it. In 1996, when Pew Research first asked about letting gay couples marry legally, almost two-thirds of the public (65%) opposed the idea, and just 27% favored it.

The shift in opinion has been driven in no small part by generational change. Millennials (born after 1980) are the most in favor of gay marriage (64% favor), followed by Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980 (46%). There is less support among Baby Boomers (37%), born 1946 to 1964, and members of the Silent Generation (32%), born 1928 to 1945.

A majority of Democrats (57%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, as do 51% of independents. By comparison, just 23% of Republicans favor same-sex marriage while 71% are opposed. In recent years, support for gay marriage has risen sharply among Democrats and independents, while Republicans’ views have shown far less change. Read More

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