Slightly over half the respondents in the 2006 survey say that their ‘opinions about homosexual relations between consenting adults’ have changed since they were 18, and about two-thirds of those respondents have changed ‘a lot.’ Those who have become ‘more accepting’ outnumber those who had become ‘less accepting’ by 5 to 1, producing a net change of 36 percent becoming more accepting (45 percent minus 9 percent; Table 1). In the following discussion, we focus on this ‘net change’ measure, the difference between the percentages reporting more and less accepting attitudes.
Table 1. Attitude Change Toward Homosexuality since Adulthood, 2006
| ||Net Changea||% Less Accepting||% No Change||% More Accepting||N|
|Acquaintance with gay people|
| Gay friend||46||4||46||50||309|
| Gay family member or acquaintance||34||7||52||41||261|
|Importance of religion in life|
| Not very important||46||3||47||49||179|
| Fairly important||38||7||48||45||206|
| Very important||39||10||41||49||217|
| Extremely important||25||13||49||38||297|
| Born-again Christian||27||15||43||42||255|
| Other Protestant||41||4||51||45||149|
| Other Catholic||38||8||46||46||215|
| Other religion||33||11||46||44||117|
| No religion||44||3||50||47||140|
| Non-Hispanic white||34||6||54||40||465|
| Under 40||40||9||43||49||358|
| 55 and over||32||8||53||40||248|
|Level of education|
| High school or less||33||15||36||48||323|
| Some college||34||8||50||42||225|
| College graduate||39||4||54||43||349|
Every group has a net change toward more accepting attitudes, but liberals, Democrats, those with gay friends, and the less religious have the biggest net changes. Net change toward acceptance is 18 percentage points higher for respondents with gay or lesbian friends than for those who did not know any lesbians or gay men (46 percent minus 28 percent). Net change is also 18 points larger for Democrats than Republicans, and 16 points higher for liberals than conservatives. Those for whom religion is ‘not very important’ are 11 points more likely to have become more accepting, and 10 points less likely to have become less accepting than those for whom religion was ‘extremely important,’ for a larger net gain of 21 points. Born-again Christians stand out among the religious groups for having the smallest net change.
Other variables matter less. Protestants who have not been born again, Catholics, Jews, and the nonreligious have comparable net increases in acceptance. Although less time had passed since their 18th birthdays, respondents under 40 show more net change toward acceptance than their elders, though only about 8 points more than those 55 and over. Education also has some positive impact on attitude change, though net change for college graduates is only 6 points higher than for those with no college degrees. Latinos show more net change toward acceptance than non-Hispanic whites, blacks, and Asians, but a high percentage of Latinos have also become less accepting. The patterns of attitude change for men and women are very similar.
Logit models (Table 2) suggest that only a few of the variables that affect attitudes toward homosexual relations also influence attitude change. The model for the determinants of acceptance of same-sex sexual relations (column 1) holds few surprises. Compared with those who say religion is ‘extremely important’ in their lives, those who say it is ‘not very important’ are predicted to be 43 percentage points more likely to also say that homosexual relations are ‘not wrong at all’ (holding the other variables at their means, as in all these comparisons). Liberals are 34 percentage points more likely than conservatives to respond ‘not wrong at all.’ The probability of calling homosexual relations ‘not wrong at all’ is 16 points higher for women than comparable men, 42 points higher for Jews and 16 points higher for Catholics than mainstream Protestants, 5 points higher for 40- than 50-year-olds, and 8 points higher for college than high school graduates. Respondents with close gay friends and those who know lesbians and gay men in other ways are 32 points and 8 points more likely than those who do not know anyone gay to say ‘not wrong at all.’ Party identification and race do not have significant effects.
Table 2. Logit Models for Attitudes toward Homosexual Relations
| ||Acceptance of Homosexuality||Became more Accepting||Became Less Accepting|
|Has close gay friend||.911***||.522**||−.899**|
|Has gay acquaintance or relative, but not close friend||−.014||.181||−.528|
|Importance of religion in life (1-4)||−.646***||−.184**||.131|
|Other non-Christian religion||.421||.052||.735|
|No religious preference||.266||.027||−.358|
When looking at the logit model for attitude change rather than attitude content, only four variables have a clearly significant impact. Holding the other variables at their means, respondents with close gay friends are 13 percentage points more likely to have become more accepting and 5 points less likely to have become less accepting than those who do not know anyone gay. Democrats are 8 percentage points more likely to have become more accepting and 4 points less likely to have become less accepting than Republicans.8 Those who say religion is ‘extremely important’ in their lives are 13 percentage points less likely than those who say it is ‘not very important’ to have become more accepting; they are an insignificant 2 points more likely to have become less accepting. Consistent with the analysis in Table 1, Latinos are 14 points more likely than comparable non-Hispanic whites to have become more accepting, although, overall, they are no more likely to be accepting of homosexuality than non-Hispanic whites.
Two other variables have significant coefficients in one of two models, but they appear to affect the probability, rather than the direction, of attitude change. College graduates are 4 percentage points less likely than high school graduates to have become less accepting, but also 4 points less likely to have become more accepting, although the latter effect falls short of statistical significance. Asian-Americans are 6 points more likely than whites to have become less accepting, but also a statistically insignificant 5 points more likely to have become more accepting. Age, political ideology, and gender have important impacts on acceptance, but not on changes in acceptance.
Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Support has risen 13 percentage points across three survey periods: 1985, 1997, and 2003-06 (Table 3). We attribute 6 points of that rise to net change in individual attitudes, as support has risen only 5 to 8 points within each birth cohort. A logit model (not shown) on all survey years combined, with ‘survey period’ and a set of dummy variables for decade of birth as the only independent variables, confirms that respondents in the 2003-06 surveys are 6 points more likely to favor same-sex marriage than respondents from the same birth cohort in the 1985 survey. Cohort replacement therefore accounts for 7 points of the 13-point rise.
Table 3. Changes in Support for Same-Sex Marriage
|Year of birth:|
| Before 1940||5||20||23||25|
|Level of education|
| High school or less||10||24||28||34|
| Some college||18||33||45||41|
| College graduate||21||43||61||64|
| Other religion||20||35||47||55|
| No religion||25||46||66||71|
| Non-Hispanic white||14||32||43||46|
Support has grown much more rapidly among some groups than others, largely reflecting the patterns for individual attitude change. Liberals were already twice as likely as conservatives to favor same-sex marriage in 1985; when their support jumped 33 percentage points while conservatives' dropped 5 points, the gap between them widened to 61 points in 2003-06. The gap between Democrats and Republicans grew from 8 to 36 points, as support rose 25 points among Democrats and dropped 3 points among Republicans. Protestants and African-Americans also hold almost the same positions in 2003-06 as in 1985, leaving them much more opposed to same-sex marriage than members of other religions or race/ethnicities.
A logit model for support for same-sex marriage in 2006 emphasizes the impact of variables only available in that year (Table 4, column 1). Holding the other variables at their means, respondents with close gay friends and others who know gay people are 32 percentage points and 8 points, respectively, more likely to favor same-sex marriage than those who do not know anyone gay. Those who consider religion ‘extremely important’ in their lives are 26 points less likely to favor same-sex marriage than those who consider religion ‘not very important,’ and born-again Christians are 14 points less likely to do so than other Protestants. With those variables in the model, religious affiliation, race/ethnicity, and education do not have significant effects.
Table 4. Logit Models for Support for Same-Sex Marriage
|2006 Only||2006 Only||1985-2006 Combined||Change in Effect by Survey Period|
|Has close gay friend||1.444***|| || || |
|Has gay acquaintance or relative, but not gay friend||.442*|| || || |
|Importance of religion in life (1-4)||−.389***|| || || |
|Born-again Christian||−.674***|| || || |
|Other non-Christian religion||.063||.526||.538***||.132|
|No religious preference||.246||.982***||1.144***||.327**|
|Born in 1920s|| || ||−.107|| |
|Born in 1930s|| || ||.172|| |
|Born in 1940s|| || ||.758**|| |
|Born in 1950s|| || ||.905***|| |
|Born in 1960s|| || ||.910***|| |
|Born in 1970s|| || ||1.230***|| |
|Born in 1980s|| || ||1.685***|| |
|Survey period (1-3)|| || ||.128**|| |
Dropping those variables (column 2) barely alters the coefficients on ideology, party identification, age, and gender. Other coefficients change to become much more like those in 1985-2006 combined (column 3). All the remaining religion coefficients become markedly more positive when religious intensity is not controlled, and when the reference group is all Protestants rather than just those who have not been born again. Minorities become markedly less supportive than comparable non-Hispanic whites, and the impact of education nearly triples and becomes statistically significant. Thus, the differences in support for same-sex marriage across religions, races, and educational levels may well be the result of differences among groups in religious intensity and fundamentalism.
In the model for all years combined, political ideology and age are the strongest predictors of support for same-sex marriage. Holding the other variables at their means, liberals are 27 percentage points more likely than conservatives to support same-sex marriage. Compared to those born in the 1920s and 1930s, support is about 20 points higher for those born in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and about 30 and 40 points higher for those born in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. Women are 10 percentage points more likely than men; non-Hispanic whites are 22 points more likely than blacks and 15 points more likely than Latinos; and the nonreligious, Jews, and other non-Christians are 27, 20, and 12 points more likely than Protestants to favor same-sex marriage. Support rises 1.4 points with an additional year of education. Holding all variables at their means, comparable respondents in the most recent surveys are 5 percentage points more likely to favor same-sex marriage than those in 1985. Thus, the net effect of changes in these other variables is to explain the one additional percentage point of the 13-point growth in support for same-sex marriage (in addition to the 7 points already explained by cohort replacement), assuming that the impact of the independent variables has not changed over time.
The impact of several independent variables has strengthened significantly over this period, however. Column 4 shows the coefficients on the interaction terms between survey period and the other independent variables. The most striking changes are the rising impact of party identification and political ideology. Holding the other variables constant, party identification did not matter in 1985, but comparable Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided today. Even holding party constant, the impact of ideology has doubled since 1985. Further, black–white differences were insignificant in 1985 but are highly significant in 2006, and the difference between Protestants and those with no religious affiliation has doubled over this period.
Because the conservatism and partisanship coefficients in the 2006-only models barely change when we drop religious intensity, fundamentalism, and acquaintance with lesbians and gay men, we conclude that coefficients on their interaction terms are “real”: same-sex marriage is an increasingly partisan and ideological issue in California. On the other hand, the 2006 ‘no religious affiliation’ and African-American coefficients are small and statistically insignificant when religious conservatism and intensity are in the model. The other religion coefficients also grow when we drop ‘born-again’ and the ‘importance of religion’ from the model, and all the other religion interaction terms are positive, though insignificant. The real change over time is probably not that those without religious affiliations are increasing their support more rapidly than others. Rather, attitudes toward same-sex marriage probably divide more strongly on religious intensity than they did two decades ago: we expect that those who have been “born again” or consider religion ‘extremely important’ in their lives are at least as strongly opposed to same-sex marriage as they were in 1985, while other Californians are becoming more supportive.