Like the country as a whole, Houston has spent the last 15 years rapidly reassessing its views on gay rights.
By the time Supreme Court last month legalized gay marriage throughout the country, a majority of Harris County residents agreed that gay marriages should have the same legal status as straight marriages, according to the latest data from the Kinder Houston Area Survey.
That change has tracked alongside increased acceptance of homosexuals adopting children, which crossed the 50 percent threshold for the first time in 2014.
Interestingly, Houston’s support of gay marriage stands in stark contrast to the views of Texas elected officials.
After the Supreme Court deemed gay marriage bans unconstitutional, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that clerks who oppose gay marriage don't have to facilitate the process. In a tweet, Abbott issued a strong denunciation of the court’s ruling.
Marriage was defined by God. No man can redefine it. We will defend our religious liberties. #tcot
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) June 26, 2015
And yet, as Kinder Institute founding director Stephen Klineberg has written, those dichotomies between Houstonians and state leaders aren’t unusual. On issues of gun control, illegal immigration and the death penalty, survey data show Houstonians holding vastly different views than their top elected officials in the state.
Klineberg says those divisions are largely because of turnout (among other factors). Simply put, the type of people who vote in elections do not broadly reflect the demographics of the population as a whole.
Harris County residents’ views on gay marriage, however, mirror national attitudes, though the country’s support in 2015 is more pronounced.
The Pew Research Center, for instance, found just 35 percent of Americans favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally as recently as 2001. That number increased to 57 percent by this year.
Thirty-seven percent of Harris County residents, meanwhile, favored legal gay marriage in 2001, compared to 51 percent today.
Unsurprisingly, the long-term change in Harris County’s acceptance of gay marriage has followed a long-term decrease in the share of the population who thought homosexuality was morally unacceptable.