With the U.S. Supreme Court holding its second straight day of arguments on same-sex marriage cases Wednesday, it is interesting to note that public opinion in Pennsylvania has shifted in favor of legal matrimony for gay and lesbian couples over the past few years.
To be sure, voters support same-sex marriage by relatively narrow margins in the state, and the issue remains controversial. There are no serious moves in the legislature to legalize it, for instance. Pennsylvania, a slow-to-change state, has seen movement on the issue nonetheless, as have other states and the nation as a whole.
Support for gay marriage swung 19 percentage points since May 2006 in the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, according to Terry Madonna, pollster and director of the college’s public affairs institute. Then, 33 percent of Pennsylvania voters agreed that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally wed. In the most recent survey, out in February, 52 percent were in favor.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm that has done independent polling in many states over the past four-plus years, also has found an net 14-point increase in support for gay marriage in Pennsylvania over the past 18 months, though the voters are closely divided.
In November 2011, PPP found that 36 percent of Keystone State voters in favor of same-sex marriage and 52 percent opposed. Earlier this month, the pollsters found the state’s voters almost evenly divided with 45 percent thinking it should be legal, and 47 percent saying it should not. There is a large generation gap: Sixty-two percent of senior citizens oppose legal same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, to 28 percent in favor. Meanwhile, state voters under the age of 45 years support it, 58 percent to 35 percent.
“The massive generational gap on gay marriage in Pennsylvania reflects what we see most places,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, which is based in Raleigh, N.C. “Majority support for it is just around the corner,” he said.