Earlier today, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), expanding the federal government’s definition of marriage from “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” to also include same-sex couples legally married in the states where they live. The court said the law, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection.
With public opinion on legalizing same-sex marriage at a tipping point—most surveys find a slim majority now in favor—the ruling is evidence of a significant reversal in how Americans think about the issue. Half of Americans favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal, while 4-in-10 (40 percent) are opposed. Yet, strong divisions persist by political affiliation, religion and generation.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) and half (50 percent) of independents favor requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal, while less than one-third (32 percent) of Republicans feel the same. Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (71 percent), white mainline Protestants (54 percent) and Catholics (52 percent) favor requiring the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed by states, while 7-in-10 (70 percent) of white evangelical Protestants oppose and minority Christians are divided (41 percent favor, 44 percent oppose). Young people are significantly more likely than seniors to favor requiring federal recognition of marriages performed in states where they’re legal, with 63 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 supporting compared to just 36 percent of Americans 65 and older.
Although the ruling marks a significant victory for supporters of same-sex marriage, it remains a very contested issue. Americans remain divided on who should decide same-sex marriage, with nearly half (48 percent) saying same-sex marriage should be left up to the states, while 43 percent back a national decision on the issue.