Report: More college students supporting same-sex marriage

New data released by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles shows increasing support among college students for same-sex marriage.

The national study, which was conducted over the course of the past year and presented at a conference earlier this month, examined the views of college freshmen on several issues, including gay marriage.

The study found that college students in almost every demographic have higher rates of support for gay marriage than others of similar race, gender and religious backgrounds, according to the latest data published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

According to the UCLA study, 65 percent of college freshmen support gay marriage, compared with 39 percent of the national population reported by the Pew research.

Additionally, support for same-sex marriage among college students has increased by 30 percent since the annual survey began asking students about their stances in 1997, said Linda DeAngelo, assistant director of research at HERI.

ASU has participated in the survey in past years, but did not participate this year.

However, some ASU students said the increase in support and the overall higher approval is still apparent on campus.

Kendall Gerdes, former co-director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Coalition, said although support has increased nationally, not all students pay much attention to the ongoing battle to legalize same-sex marriage.

“ASU’s a big place, and I’d say that most students probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it unless they have a friend that’s gay, a family member that’s gay or if they are questioning their own sexuality,” she said.

Secondary education junior Catharine Mead said she was not surprised to learn more college students are supporting gay marriage.

“I’d like to say it has a lot to do with our generation as a whole,” she said. “We tend to be more accepting in general.”

Increased media attention has brought the issue to the forefront, increasing awareness and promoting acceptance in all generations, Mead said.

While many students are opposed to same-sex marriage for various reasons, they still admit there is a growing trend toward acceptance.

Biology senior Zachary Bloomer said he and most members of his church do not support gay marriage, but they do support gay rights.

“Certainly members of this University are following the trend of accepting the ideology,” said Bloomer, the first officer of ASU’s Latter Day Saints Student Association. “I don’t see that in the students I represent, which is about 2,200. But elsewhere, yes.”

ASU psychology professor Lee Spencer said there is a lot of research supporting the idea that college students are more accepting of alternative lifestyles.

“People with more education tend to be less homophobic in general,” she said. “Just by virtue of being in college, students tend to be a more liberal, accepting group.”

Although the UCLA survey did not include upperclassmen, Spencer said attending college likely increases student support even more.

“Being in such a diverse community puts them in touch with other gay folk, which gets them to challenge their prejudices,” Spencer said. “Additionally, if at some point in their college career they take a class and learn that, at least for men, there is scientific evidence that being gay is not a choice, that’s going to help them shift their views.”

Spencer said ASU is a perfect example of these factors.

“Exposure to gay folk, education in general and education about homosexuality,” she said, “those things move people to be more accepting, and you find all of those things on our campus.”

Regardless of the clear increase in support over the past 30 years, Gerdes said both ideologies still have a stronghold on college campuses nationwide.

“My experience as co-director of LGBTQ was one that put me in contact with a lot of amazing people who were really on the front lines of making ASU queer friendly,” Gerdes said. “But it also put me in contact with a lot of mean-spirited, incredibly bigoted people … and anonymous violence, so I think I’ve seen both sides of the story at ASU.”

Reach the reporter at keshoult@asu.edu