Next week, the Supreme Court will hand down its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. While the Court has several options at its disposal, it is widely expected to hand down a broad rather than narrow ruling—one that would make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. A poll released last week by PRRI, of which I am the CEO, found that nearly two-thirds of the country, including 58 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Democrats, say that they expect the Supreme Court will do just that. And even if the pending court decision doesn’t resolve it, a recent Pew poll found that more than seven in ten say that the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide is inevitable.
In 2015, nearly all public polls have shown solid majority support for same-sex marriage, between 55 percent and 61 percent. Today’s support is the result of broad shifts in opinion that have occurred across the country’s different regions, religious groups, and other demographic groups.
The data suggests that the public is on solid empirical ground in its judgment that the legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable. The chart below, which plots a single data point per age for Americans between the ages of 18 and 90, demonstrates that there is a linear relationship between age and support for same-sex marriage. For example, 73 percent of 20-year-olds support same-sex marriage, twice the number (36 percent) of 80-year-olds who support it.
Even groups that have traditionally held conservative views on same-sex marriage have, on the whole, not successfully convinced their younger members to hold the line in opposing it. The chart below illustrates these large generation gaps. In six of eight of these conservative groups, majorities of the youngest members support same-sex marriage. Most notably, only 23 percent of Republican seniors support same-sex marriage, compared to 53 percent of Republican young adults. Among Southerners, support for same-sex marriage among young adults is nearly twice the support among seniors (63 percent versus 32 percent). White evangelical Protestants and Mormons are the only two groups in which majorities of younger members do not support same-sex marriage. But even among these most conservative groups, the generation gaps are yawning. And it is striking that among young white evangelical Protestants, opposition falls short of a majority.
Whether or not the Supreme Court deals the final blow to the culture war over same-sex marriage next week, public opinion trends indicate—and the public overall perceives—that the days of the decades-long debate over this issue are numbered. In light of that reality, both supporters and opponents of gay rights are already asking, “Then what?”