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Strong Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage, But Those Who Approve Have Increased Substantially

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – April 14, 2004 – Eight years ago, The Harris Poll found that very large 5-to-1 majorities opposed same-sex marriage. Now, a new Harris Poll finds that many more people approve of them, although those who disapprove still outnumber those who approve by 2-to-1. When it comes to a choice between allowing same-sex marriages, civil unions or neither, the public divides very approximately into thirds, with 35% saying “neither,” 31% favoring civil unions and 27% favoring marriage.

These are some of the results of a survey by Harris Interactive® conducted among 3,698 U.S. adults surveyed online between March 18 and 29, 2004.

Some of the key findings in this research are:

§ A 50% to 27% plurality disapproves of same-sex marriage between two women. However, this is substantially less than the 55% to 16% majority who felt this way in 2000 and the even larger 63% to 11% majority in 1996.

§ An almost identical 51% to 26% majority disapproves of same-sex marriage between two men. Again, this is a big change from the 57% to 15% majority who felt this way in 2000 and the 64% to 10% majority who held this opinion in 1996.

§ Unsurprisingly the attitudes of people who themselves are gay, lesbian or bisexual are very different. Seventy-one percent of them (compared to only 24% of heterosexuals) think that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, as opposed to having only a civil union or neither of these.

§ Those who favor allowing same-sex marriage increases somewhat when people are asked how they would feel if their own sons or daughters were gay or lesbian. Under these circumstances 36% would want their child to be allowed to have a same-sex marriage, compared to 48% who would not.

§ In response to another question, 41% of adults agree that “not allowing same-sex couples to marry goes against a fundamental American right that all people should be treated equally,” while 47% disagree.

In reviewing these data, one is tempted to write that “if these trends continue, then in five or ten years time, we may have a majority who support same-sex marriages.” However, there is no strong reason to believe that this trend will continue. Attitudes to same-sex marriage will surely change in response to events and media coverage of this issue.

Who should decide?
The public is split down the middle as to whether decisions about same-sex marriage should be determined by the federal government (40%) or by the states (41%). Most people (65%), but by no means everybody, understand that currently state governments determine the legality of same-sex marriage.



“How do you feel about so-called same-sex marriages, between two men or two women? Specifically, would you say you approve or disapprove or don’t feel strongly about the issue?”

Base: All Adults

Approve Disapprove Don’t Feel Strongly Don’t Know/

Same-sex marriages between two women 2004 % 27 50 19 4
2000 % 16 55 26 2
1996 % 11 63 25 2
Same-sex marriages between two men 2004 % 26 51 18 4
2000 % 15 57 24 4
1996 % 10 64 24 2

NOTE: In the 1996 and 2000 surveys, the words “single sex” were used. In this new survey this was changed to “same-sex.”

Percentages may not add up exactly due to rounding.



“Do you think that same-sex couples should be . . . ?”

Base: All Adults
Total Sexual Orientation
GLBT Heterosexual
% % %
Allowed to marry 27 71 24
Allowed to have civil unions with all the same rights of a married couple but not call it marriage 31 25 32
Neither of these 35 4 37
Not sure 7 1 7

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly due to rounding.



“Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements.”

Base: All Adults

Agree Disagree Don’t Know/

If my son or daughter were gay or lesbian, I would want him or her to be able to legally marry his or her same-sex partner % 36 48 16
Not allowing same-sex couples to marry goes against a fundamental American right that all people should be treated equally % 41 47 12



“Do you know if laws related to the governing of marriage are customarily determined by state governments or the federal government?”

Base: All Adults
State government 65
Federal government 10
Not sure 26

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly due to rounding.



“Do you think laws related to same-sex marriage or civil unions should be determined by the federal government or state laws?”

Base: All Adults
It should be determined by the federal government 40
It should be determined by state laws 41
Not sure 19


The Harris Poll® was conducted online within the United States between March 18 and 29, 2004 among a nationwide cross section of 3,698 adults (18+) of whom 231 self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT). Figures for age, sex, race, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. "Propensity score" weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

In theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus 2 percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy. Statistical precision of the GLBT sample is plus or minus 7 percentage points. Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question order, and weighting. It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors. This online sample is not a probability sample.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

About Harris Interactive®

Harris Interactive ( is a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll®, and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, Harris Interactive combines proprietary methodologies and technology with expertise in predictive, custom and strategic research. The Company conducts international research from its U.S. offices and through wholly owned subsidiaries—London-based HI Europe (, Paris-based Novatris and Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan—as well as through the Harris Interactive Global Network of independent market- and opinion-research firms.

Source: Harris Poll Online


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