Are South Africans hardening their views on same-sex marriage?


A new report suggests that South Africans have hardened their attitudes towards same-sex marriage with a seemingly growing majority opposed to marriage equality.

This has been revealed by a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 24 countries. The survey highlights the contrast between countries where support is widespread and those where it remains limited.

South Africa holds a unique position in Africa as the only country where same-sex marriage is legal since its codification in 2006. However, the Pew survey reveals that most South Africans still oppose the practice.

Using the 2016 Progressive Prudes report as a comparison, there has been a small increase in support for marriage equality (from 36.6% in 2015 to 38% in 2023) but a more dramatic increase in opposition to same-sex marriage (from 46% to 58% in 2023).

This suggests that more people who were neither for nor against same-sex marriage have hardened their views. It’s important to note that direct comparisons with past surveys are challenging as surveys have different methodologies and don’t necessarily ask questions in the same way. It may, however, indicate a worrying trend.

It’s worth noting that in India, which is close to becoming the most populated nation in the world, 53% are in favour of marriage equality.

Regional variations

South Africa nevertheless stands out as an exception to prevailing attitudes towards same-sex marriage in Africa. In Nigeria, where homosexuality is illegal, a mere 2% of adults express support for the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

Similarly, in Kenya, only 9% of respondents favour same-sex marriage. These statistics indicate the significant challenges faced by LGBTQ+ communities in Africa regarding acceptance and recognition of their rights.

Demographic factors

The survey also explores how demographic factors influence views on same-sex marriage. In general, younger adults are more likely to support same-sex marriage compared to their older counterparts. This trend is consistent across various countries, highlighting a generational shift towards greater acceptance and inclusivity.

Gender differences are also apparent, with women generally exhibiting higher levels of support for same-sex marriage compared to men. In South Africa, this pattern is mirrored, emphasising the role of gender in shaping societal attitudes.

Educational attainment and income level also play a role in influencing views on same-sex marriage. The survey indicates that individuals with higher education and income levels are more likely to support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Religion’s influence

The survey reveals that in South Africa, as in many countries worldwide, religious affiliation impacts attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Countries where more people consider religion important tend to have lower support for same-sex marriage. South Africa’s 58% opposition to same-sex marriage may, in part, be attributed to the influence of religious beliefs.

Changing perspectives

The Pew Research Center survey provides valuable insights into the global landscape of attitudes towards same-sex marriage. South Africa’s position as a legal outlier in Africa underscores the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ communities across the continent. However, with changing demographics and evolving social norms, there is hope for continued progress towards acceptance and equality.

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