Civil Liberties

Gay Marriage Opponents Think Most Americans Dislike Equality As Much As They Do



Opponents of marriage equality may think they have God on their side, but it seems what they've really got working for them is delusion. A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that despite their now-minority status, most U.S. opponents of same-sex marriage think that the bulk of their fellow Americans stand with them.

These days, only 41 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. Yet two-thirds of this vocal minority erroneously believe that most Americans oppose same-sex marriage. And only 20 percent realize that the majority of Americans now support it.

Wait—aren't opponents of marriage equality (and gay rights in general) always crowing about how they're being oppressed? Are religious conservatives a beleaguered minority (war on Christmas, SB 1062, etc.) or the stalwart voice of a silent majority? I guess it depends on which persona is politically convenient at the time. 

Of course, public opinion in general tends to skew inaccurate. Heck, one in ten Americans think HTML is a sexually-transmitted disease. And 35 percent think that at least a quarter of people are homosexual. Interestingly, even same-sex marriage supporters seem to perceive less support for it than actually exists. Only 34 percent of Americans overall said that the majority of their peers support gay marriage.

As Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham notes, "this is at least partly a function of how rapidly public opinion has shifted. Ten years ago, only 32 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared to 53 percent in favor today—a 21-point shift." But there's also probably some epistemic closure at work. Though Ingraham cites it as the prerogative of religious conservatives and Mitt Romney 2012 supporters, epistemic closure (or "confirmation bias," or the "false consensus effect," or whatever you want to call it) infects people of all ideological stripes.

In the case of same-sex marriage, however, religious folks were especially likely to fall victim. Regular churchgoers tended to overestimate fellow congregants' opposition to marriage equality by 20 percentage points or more. About 59 percent of white mainline Protestants said most of their fellow churchgoers oppose gays marrying, though a majority (57 percent) actually support it. And nearly three-quarters of Catholics think most people at their church oppose marriage equality, while about half are actually in favor.