As the Supreme Court prepares to take up two cases involving same-sex marriage, shifting public opinion on the issue may play a crucial role in the Justices' decision-making process.
Over the last two decades, public opinion has changed dramatically in favor of gay rights, with a little more than half the country now saying they believe same-sex marriage should be legal under the law. The numbers are even more startling when broken down by age. According to Gallup, 73% of 18-29 year-olds support legalized same-sex marriage.
On Monday's NOW, Steve Elmendorf, the chair of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, said President Obama's public support for same-sex marriage has helped mold public opinion.
“The other thing, I think, that’s made a big deal is the visibility of gay and lesbian people, and the court is not immune to that,” said Elmendorf. “The more people meet gay people, as either their clerks, their family members or their friends or their neighbors, the more they realize that this notion that they shouldn't be able to get married, which is a deeply conservative institution, the idea that two people can’t love each other and be in a stable relationship, which is family values, it’s ridiculous."
Still, public opinion may be offset by laws at the state level.
Currently, only nine states, plus the District of Columbia, permit same-sex marriage. The remaining 41 states don’t allow it, with roughly 30 of them banning it through state constitutional amendments.
To put that in perspective, in 1967, when the Supreme Court struck down race-based marriage laws, interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states.