But even younger evangelicals are more opposed to same-sex marriage than older adults who are not born-again Christians. Among young adults who are not evangelical, one in eight say gay couples do not have the right to marry each other.
With changing attitudes toward homosexuality comes greater acceptance of same-sex marriage as a legal right. When the survey asked in the early 1990s if "homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another," most Americans disagreed. By 1998, however, attitudes began to change. Opposition among evangelicals dropped from 90 percent to 76 percent within the same decade. The drop among non-evangelical white Americans fell from 68 percent to 46 percent. In 2010, those disagreeing that gay couples have a right to marry shrank further. Still opposed, two-thirds of evangelicals disagree that gay couples have the right to marry, compared to three in ten of other Americans.
A recent poll from LifeWay Research asked, "Do you believe homosexual behavior is a sin?"Overall, Americans are evenly split with 44 percent saying yes, 43 percent saying no, and the remaining saying they are not sure. Among evangelicals, however, 85 percent said "homosexual behavior is a sin." The LifeWay poll also asked whether knowing that a church taught that homosexuality was sinful would make people more or less likely to attend. Half of those who believe homosexuality is sinful said that they would feel more positively toward a church that believed homosexuality was sinful.
LifeWay Research director Scott McConnell said the decision to use the word "sin" was intentional. A poll asking about sin is different from asking whether homosexuality is wrong.
"When asking questions like this to a general sampling of the population, it is important to note that people's definition of 'sin' may differ based upon their religious background and beliefs," McConnell said. "We intentionally used the word, but also know it means different things to different people."
While evangelicals appear to be moving toward greater acceptance of marriage as a legal right, they still oppose the idea of same-sex marriage. The General Social Survey findings differ from polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew does not ask about "the right to marry." Instead, Pew asks if people "favor or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally." Pew reported that evangelical attitudes toward same-sex marriage have remained fairly constant over the past decade. While Catholics, mainline Protestants, and the religiously unaffiliated have grown more favorable toward same-sex marriage, white evangelicals and black Protestants have remained consistently opposed. Nearly three-quarters of evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage, while 14 percent favor it. Black Protestants are also much more likely to oppose (62 percent) than favor same-sex marriage (30 percent).
Potential Political Impact
Wednesday's announcement brought immediate analysis of potential political impact among voters and donors. Seven of nine presidential election swing states have laws or constitutional provisions that prohibit same-sex marriage, according to The New York Times. And a few states, like Maine, Minnesota, Washington, and Maryland, are expected to vote on marriage-related measures in November. Within 90 minutes of his interview, Obama raised $1 million, as Romney could unite the social conservative base.