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In California, support for gay marriage seen growing

Aurelio Rojas
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Support for same-sex marriage in California has increased by nearly 50 percent in the past two decades, largely because of views held by a new, younger generation of residents, an analysis of Field polls during that period has found.

About half of Californians still disapprove of same-sex marriage, but 43 percent approve, according to the survey. In 1985, only 30 percent of people surveyed by the Field Poll approved.

Age is one of the strongest predicters of attitudes on same-sex marriages. Currently, acceptance ranges from 25 percent among those born before 1940 to 58 percent among those born in the 1980s, according to the report.

"The movement toward being more favorable on same-sex marriage can be explained simply by new generations of voters coming into the voter mix," said Charles Gossett, a political scientist at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Gossett and Gregory Lewis, a political scientist at Georgia State University, analyzed 22 years of Field polls on the issue.

People in every age group were at least four times as likely to say that they had become more accepting of homosexual relations since they turned 18.

A 2006 Field Poll found 45 percent of Californians said they had become more accepting of homosexual relations since they were young adults, while 9 percent said they had become less accepting.

"Regardless of one's age, people are reporting that they're becoming more accepting of homosexuality," Gossett said.

Every population sub-group in California has shown a net increase in acceptance of same-sex relationships and gay marriage in general over the past two decades. But they have done so at different rates based largely on political and religious affiliation.

Forty-nine percent of Democrats said they were more accepting, compared to 43 percent of Independents and 39 percent of Republicans.

Forty-seven percent of people who said they had no religious affiliation and 45 percent of Jewish respondents reported they were more accepting. The rate was 42 percent for born-again Christians.

Racial and ethnic differences also play a role in determining attitudes on the issue. Latinos are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than non-Hispanic whites.

African-Americans are even more opposed than Latinos to same-sex marriages, and their level of opposition has not changed in two decades.

Support for same-sex marriage in California is stronger than in most other states because of the state's relatively young population, according to the authors.

The state ranks 45th in the percentage of its population over age 64 and has experienced a more rapid increase in the percentage of its population under age 18 than over 65 percent.

Gossett said the analysis did not determine what other factors are driving changes in attitudes in California about same-sex marriage.

"Unfortunately, it's not easy to ask that kind of a question on a survey because there are so many possible different answers," he said.

Nor, he said, can authors predict when - or if - a majority of Californians will support same-sex marriage.

"We don't have any projection when it will be a majority or whether or not this is an unstoppable trend, or something could happen that would stop it," he said.

The findings in the report were based on independent random-sample surveys of adults in California conducted between 1985 and 2006. Trend analyses were based on a total of 4,300 telephone interviews completed over that period.

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