June 6 (Bloomberg) -- Fifty-one percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, the first time the organization has found majority support for same-sex weddings.
Pew also said the ranks of Americans who believe legal same-sex marriages are “inevitable” increased to 72 percent, up from the 59 percent who expressed the same view in 2004. The poll was released as the nation awaits a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the legality of a 2008 California initiative banning same-sex marriages.
The survey showed an even split on the morality of homosexuality, with 45 percent of Americans saying it’s a sin and 45 percent disagreeing. In 2003, 55 percent viewed it as sinful while 33 percent didn’t. Religious people are beginning to view the issue differently, said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a Washington-based advocacy organization.
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of progressive people of faith who are becoming engaged in the issue,” she said. “This is an issue of social justice and fairness, and those are core parts of most faiths.”
Pew speculated that increased support for same-sex marriage may be driven by the growing number of Americans who know gay or lesbian people. About 87 percent of those surveyed said they know someone who is gay or lesbian, an increase from the 61 percent reported in a 1993 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Almost half of Americans said a close family member or close friend is gay or lesbian. Almost one-third know gays or lesbians who are raising children.
Forty percent said they would be upset if they learned they had a gay or lesbian child. A 2004 Los Angeles Times poll found that 60 percent of Americans would be upset if they had a child who told them they were gay.
People who said they know “a lot” of gays and lesbians were more likely by a 68-32 percent margin to support same-sex marriage than people who didn’t know any, Pew reported.
The biggest opposition to homosexuality is based on religion, with 52 percent of people who believe it should be discouraged citing religious beliefs. Another 13 percent said homosexuality is bad for children and families.
Even so, the percentage of religious people who are tolerant of gays and lesbians has increased. Protestants, who discouraged homosexuality in a June 2003 Pew survey by a 57-36 percent margin, now will tolerate it by a 47-43 percent difference. Catholics, who were tolerant in 2003 with a 62-32 percent margin, boosted the number of supporters to a 71-20 percent difference.
Only black Protestants, with a 51-39 percent disapproval margin, and white evangelicals, with a 59-30 percent difference, thought homosexuality should be discouraged.
People who aren’t affiliated with any church were the most tolerant, with 79 percent accepting gays and lesbians.
Americans had little trouble agreeing on the nation’s most visible gay or lesbian figure. Thirty-two percent went with comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Seven percent named pro basketball player Jason Collins, who became the first person in the NBA to acknowledge being gay last month. Six percent of Americans tabbed singer Elton John.
Thirty-eight percent of the public couldn’t name any gay or lesbian public figure.
The poll of 1,504 adults was taken May 1-5. It has a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Bass in Washington at email@example.com