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Posted on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 6:30 a.m.

Gay marriage: Is it all about who you know?

By Wayne Baker

0629 Relationships you know.jpg

As more Americans come out to their family and friends, will homosexuality become more accepted?

Photo from WikiMedia Commons

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing the recently passed same-sex marriage legislation in New York and its implications for the future of "marriage equality" in the U.S.

If you know someone who’s gay, are you more likely to oppose or support gay marriage?

Opposition to gay marriage often stems from moral and religious concerns. But it also comes from not knowing anyone who is gay.

In fact, having a friend, colleague, or family member who is homosexual doubles the likelihood of support for gay marriage, according to a recent Pew study.

Millennials are much more likely to know someone who’s gay, which is a key reason this group of young Americans supports same-sex marriage. Senior Americans who know someone who’s gay are more likely to support gay marriage, compared to their age peers who do not. But a big difference between Millennials and seniors is that few members of this older group of Americans actually know someone who’s homosexual.

Over half of Americans age 65 and older said they couldn’t name a single gay person they knew personally — or even a gay celebrity. Only 19 percent of Americans under 50 said the same, as did only 27 percent of Americans between 50 and 64.

Seniors are not more likely to cite moral or religious reasons behind their opposition to gay marriage. They just don’t know gay people. Lack of familiarity breeds uncertainty, doubt and concern.

Given that values change by what is euphemistically called “intergenerational replacement,” it seems like the tide will continue to turn.

But that doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing in many states. For some, that’s good news. For gay-rights activists who hope to parlay the passage of New York’s law into a national movement toward “marriage equality,” it’s not.

Right now, 29 states have constitutional amendments that restrict marriage to one man, one woman. An additional 12 states have statuary laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman. These laws would be hard to overturn.

The amendments are even harder as they signal strong political will against same-sex marriage. States with constitutional or statuary bans are all over the map, including every region of the nation.

The liberal northeast is the only region that contains a number of states that have sanctioned same-sex marriage. So it’s not surprising that gay-marriage advocates are turning to this region to chalk up additional gains, focusing on Maine, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Oregon and California are also targets. California is unique in that it’s the only state that legalized same-sex marriage and then retracted this policy. We discussed this reversal in 2008.

Do you support legalized gay marriage?
If so, is it because you know someone who’s homosexual?
If you oppose it, do you know anyone who’s gay?

Is same-sex marriage sanctioned in your state?
Do you approve or disapprove?
Do you think we’ll see more states following New York?

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.



Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

I support legalized same sex marriage. I know many people who are homosexual and I know a lot of celebrities who are as well (Ellen DeGeneres etc). Unfortunately, same sex marriage is not sanctioned in your state. I disapprove, but there is a republican governor in Michigan as well as mostly republicans in the Michigan State Government. Hopefully, there will be more states following New York, hopefully Michigan (without the republican governor in charge) will also follow New York.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Most of my family are Christians and oppose same sex marriage. My immediate family are all for same sex marriage. It is no use trying to talk to my family about this, there is no way that they will understand the importance of same sex marriage legalized. Likewise, there is no way that they can convince my immediate family that same sex marriage is wrong. It's sad, but what can you do. No use talking to my family about politics.


Sat, Jul 2, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

"Our Values" has again failed to understand the fundamental issues that are involved in human relationships. The issue is not that of the gender of two people who may come together in a relationship. I would have to first know the purpose of a relationship if it needs my approval or endorsement. A relationship could be for several reasons such as that of friendship, a mutually shared feeling of affection, feeling of devotion, feeling of respect, admiration and appreciation, and could be a simple feeling of sexual attraction. Could two people engage in a relationship just for the purpose of deriving satisfaction of the feeling of sexual attraction? Could mutually shared feeling of sexual attraction establish a relationship that could be stable? Why is commitment important to a relationship? What is separation anxiety? What is the purpose of same-sex marriage if it is not intended to provide a stable relationship based upon to commitment to each other? Why are people afraid of understanding simple religious thoughts? Book of Mark, Chapter 10, verse 9 says, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." The issue is not that of proof for God's existence. If there is no God, and even when man knows that there is no God, man would still desire a relationship that provides psychological satisfaction. If there is indeed a sense of psychological satisfaction, man would experience anxiety, and the anxiety is generated by a fear of separation. Man has a preference for stability and commitment in a relationship. We can take away God, but we cannot take away man from man's nature.

Sarah Rigg

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

I really wish it was true that if more people who oppose same-sex marraige knew gay people, their attitudes would magically change - poof! But I know (and come from a family of) a lot of fundamentalist evangelical Christians who know plenty of gay folks and still oppose same-sex marriage. I am hoping for "intergenerational replacement" to help turn the tide, but sadly, that means rooting for a lot of people I love - and deeply disagree with on the issue - to die off. Very mixed feelings.