Utahns’ opinions on same-sex marriage have shifted dramatically over the past decade

There has been a “dramatic” evolution of hearts and minds regarding same-sex marriage in the last decade, one advocate said.

Less than a month after a court decision temporarily allowed same-sex couples to marry in Utah, a poll showed fewer than 40% of Utahns supported same-sex marriage.

Ten years later, that number is closer to 75%, based on polling that one expert said showed a “seismic shift in opinion.” Both polls were sponsored by the Deseret News and a partner agency or institute.

There has been a “dramatic” evolution of hearts and minds regarding same-sex marriage, said Marina Lowe, policy director for Equality Utah.

“It seems clear that at least on this issue people feel pretty comfortable understanding that marriage can look different,” she said.

Utah’s same-sex marriage rate is higher than other states

Winning the right to marry was “symbolic in so many ways,” Lowe said.

The fight in federal court wasn’t just about the institution of marriage but primarily about the rights people get “without any explicit contract that just come freely with marriage,” she said.

There are more than 1,000 federal rights and often hundreds more at a state level that protect married couples and their families, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Those rights include visiting a loved one in the hospital, passing on an inheritance without a bunch of contracts, custody rights to children and many other things people often don’t think about, Lowe said.

Same-sex couples in Utah are more likely than those in other states to marry and gain those benefits, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

About 61% of same-sex couples in the Beehive State are married. That’s the 11th highest of any state and 5.7% higher than the national rate of 58%.

The numbers vary in neighboring states. Wyoming has the third-highest rate at 70.7%, and Nevada rounds out the top five with 66.8%.

But in Arizona and Idaho, same-sex couples are less likely to marry than in other states.

Same-sex couples living in the same households are less likely to be married in Utah than they were in 2019 — the year the federal government started tracking that statistic as part of the American Community Survey.

In 2019, nearly 70% of same-sex couples in Utah were married, making last year’s figure a 12% decrease.

But there were around 1,100 more same-sex households in 2022 than in 2019. That’s a 12.9% increase.

It’s worth noting these numbers are all based on one-year estimates. They are less accurate than five-year estimates, but the Salt Lake Tribune chose to use them because they are the only data available for 2022.

Focus, advocacy shifting to transgender rights

Positive sentiment about same-sex marriage has surged as the number of same-sex couples increased in Utah and nationally — there was a 30.3% jump between 2019 and 2022 across the country.

But now there is a lot of negative focus on transgender rights, Lowe said, and Equality Utah is shifting attention to protect those.

Building relationships will be critical to that fight, she said, just like it was for marriage equality and so many other issues.

“People know and love people who are gay and lesbian,” Lowe said. “It makes it much harder to think of someone as an enemy if you know them.”

Megan Banta is The Salt Lake Tribune’s data enterprise reporter, a philanthropically supported position. The Tribune retains control over all editorial decisions.