(Pew Research Center/ By David Masci and Seth Motel) The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a landmark ruling granting same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry. The 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizes gay marriage throughout the country, meaning that the 14 states that currently do not allow gays and lesbians to wed will now need to do so.
The decision rests in part on the court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment, stating that limiting marriage only to heterosexual couples violates the amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy states that “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” Kennedy goes on to say that gay and lesbian couples “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Here are five key facts about same-sex marriage:
1. There has been a dramatic shift in recent years in Americans’ attitudes about gay marriage, with support for same-sex marriage rising from 37% in 2009 to 57% in May 2015, according to the most recent Pew Research Center polling. Among the groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage today are Millennials (73%), Democrats (65%) and people without any religious affiliation (85%).
2. There are some notable differences in how groups feel about allowing gays and lesbians to marry. For example, a majority of whites (59%) and Hispanics (56%) favor same-sex marriage, compared with 41% of blacks. Religion continues to be a major factor in attitudes as well. Fully 85% of those who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage, as do 62% of white mainline Protestants and 56% of Catholics. Among black Protestants, 33% favor same-sex marriage (57% oppose), and 27% of white evangelical Protestants favor it (70% oppose). Adults in the Silent generation (ages 70 to 87) are the only age group in which significantly more oppose (53%) than favor (39%) gay marriage. Americans who live in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized by the legislature or popular vote are the most likely to favor gays and lesbians marrying (68%); 59% of people in states where a court has legalized the practice favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 43% of those living somewhere where it is not legal. (To see more comparisons, explore our detailed tables here.)
3. Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. In 19 of those states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Utah, gay marriage became legal (starting at the beginning of 2014) after federal courts struck down laws or state constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions.
4. In the recent Pew Research survey, nearly three-quarters (72%) of Americans – including half of those who oppose gay marriage – said they saw eventual legal recognition of same-sex marriages as “inevitable.”
5. With the Supreme Court’s decision, the U.S. now joins 20 other countries that already allow gay and lesbian couples to wed in all of their jurisdictions. The first nation to legalize gay marriage was the Netherlands, which did so in 2000. Since then, several other European countries – including Spain, France, all of Scandinavia and, most recently, Ireland – have enacted laws sanctioning gay marriage. Outside of Europe, same-sex marriage is now legal in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay, as well as in parts of Mexico.
Note: This is an update to a post originally published April 27, 2015.