Survey: Millennials echo parents on abortion, much more supportive of gay marriage
June 9th, 2011
01:46 PM ET

Survey: Millennials echo parents on abortion, much more supportive of gay marriage

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Ask Sarah Mattingly for the first word that comes to mind when she hears the word "abortion," and she heaves a huge sigh.

Then there's a long pause before she answers: "Sadness."

Mattingly works at Northland Church, an evangelical megachurch in Orlando, Florida, and she regularly passes an abortion clinic on her way to work.

"There are always picketers. The parking lot is always full. I see these women sitting in their cars and just feel full of sadness," she says.

There's no doubt in her mind that abortion is wrong: "not what God has ordained."

And yet, she says, she's not entirely convinced abortion should be against the law.

"I know a lot of people my age who struggle with that - who say we will never agree with it, but at what point is it the government's responsibility?" she asks. "I would tend to say I think it should be illegal, but I can see both sides of the story. It's a tough one."

Mattingly is part of what's being called the millennial generation, born in the 1980s and coming of age around the year 2000.

A huge new survey finds that she is not alone among her peers in feeling conflicted about abortion.

Just under half of 18- to 29-year-olds say that abortion is morally acceptable, but six out of 10 say it should be legal in most or all cases, and nearly seven out of 10 say it should be available locally.

The survey, by the Public Religion Research Institute, contains a number of startling findings.

One is that millennials are not significantly more supportive of abortion rights than their parents are, even though they tend to be better educated and less churchgoing - factors which tend to predict people are pro-choice.

There's no noticeable difference in the number of 20-year-olds and 50-year-olds who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, for example, according to the PRRI.

But young people do break ranks with their elders on the other major "value voters" issue, gay marriage.

Only four out of 10 millennials say sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong, about 60% of 50- to 64-year-olds say that, and seven out of 10 people 65 and older think it is.

The millennials are driving a massive shift in American views on gay marriage.

In 1999, just over one-third of Americans said gay marriage should be legal. Today, just over half do, according to the PRRI survey, which is consistent with other recent findings.

Views on abortion, by contrast, haven't budged in the last dozen years, with 57% of Americans saying in 1999 that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 56% saying so in the PRRI survey.

"The decoupling of attitudes on abortion and same-sex marriage suggest that these topics, which served in the past as the heart of the 'values' agenda, are no longer necessarily linked in the minds of Americans," says the survey, which was released Thursday.

It's called "Committed to Availability, Conflicted About Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars," and is based on 3,000 English and Spanish telephone interviews conducted in April and May.

One of America's most prominent cultural conservatives admits that when it comes to gay marriage, the movement is not as influential on young people as it would like to be.

"There's a lot of ground to make up there," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based organization that promotes "marriage and family" and opposes abortion.

He disputes the PRRI findings on abortion, asserting that "young people are stronger in their pro-life views than their parents."

But he concedes that conservatives haven't had a similar impact on young people's views on homosexuality.

"Cultural influencers have weighed in heavily" in favor of gay marriage, he said.

But the millennial generation could well change its mind as it grows up and starts families, he said.

"There is certainly this live-and-let-live attitude, but once the younger generation gets married and has children it falls by the wayside out of a necessity to protect their children," Perkins predicted. "They begin to re-evaluate the value construct."

Back at Northland Church, Sarah Mattingly is torn about gay marriage the same way she is about abortion. Married to a musician who works in musical theater, she and her husband have gay friends.

"Again, I don't agree with it, I really don't," she says of gay marriage. "God specifically in his word has ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman. But at what point is it the government's responsibility to step in?"

She thinks gay marriage is "misguided," and feels the "church and believers" need to be involved.

"We would never say that this is a good thing in the sense that we don't like it, we wish it didn't exist. But the reality is, it does," she says.

And she as she wrestles with whether the government should let gay people marry, she can't come up with a definite answer: "I can answer yes and I can answer no to that."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Abortion • Gay marriage • Politics • Polls

soundoff (584 Responses)
  1. GangStarr


    June 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  2. Ron

    I get really tired of conservative / Evangelical Christians trying to tell everyone what is moral and acceptable and what is not, based solely off of their beliefs. Should a group be powerful enough to start to dictate to them what is acceptable or not, they'd all be screaming their heads off. It's quite simple really, to conservative/ evangel christians, equality is only good when they are the ones who benefit most from it. It's the same old song and dance routine with them.
    Gay marriage should be left to the Supreme court to decided based solely on our laws because there is no justifiable reason to deny it other than "I don't like it because I believe its wrong". Marriage can be performed anywhere but an important point, non-the-less, it is not the Christian god who gives the legal benefits that are attached to marriage, it is the State and Federal Government, not churches. For those who don't like my comments, don't care, YOUR religion stops at the end of your nose. You don't want others forcing their beliefs on you, then stop forcing yours. Plain and simple.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  3. Bole

    Tony Perkins should definitely have been aborted as he is about as negative an influence on this country as any other Hitler-wannabe.
    His god is just a fantasy. People who try to legislate their fake morality because of their fantasy-god are little better than escaped crazies from the nearest insane asylum who would love to come screeching into your home and cut into your bodies with their knives while screaming "God says you must obey us!".

    June 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  4. Michael DeRosa

    As far as Gay marriage goes, I think Gays in committed relationships should have all the rights and benefits of traditionally married people. They just need to choose a different word to describe their relationship. The word Marriage has been defined for thousands of years. Just choose a different word.
    Gays have different words for to describe Gay men from Gay women....women are Lesbians. Why should the word Marriage be used to describe a Gay relationship. Don't tell me "it's the same".....It's not the same. Two men, two women and a man and a women are not the "same" relationship. The three different relationships should have three different terms......Just choose a different word.
    But somehow I don't think that will be agreed upon. Gays want the word Marriage. They want their relationships to be seen as Exactly the same.....and it's not.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Ron

      While I appreciate your kind words, why should gay men and women have to come up with a new word. Christianity DOES NOT own the word or concept. Another issue, do you realize that should it be called a civil union, the Federal Government does not have to recognize it or give benefits to a couple who has a civil marriage? It's the same for straight or gay couples...nothing.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  5. The Dude


    June 9, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  6. Brian

    What does "moral" mean? I see it used a lot to define social issues, but not certain what it actually means.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Matt

      Moral is a word used to describe ethic that are believed to be dictated by a higher power. However, when most people use that they use it in the context of what they believe is right.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Stephanie

      It means that if your children disobey you, you have to stone them to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

      June 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Stephanie-Wrong..go read the whole of it and think on it a bit.

      June 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  7. apeman1

    I'm starting to believe that all people that give any creedance to the bible are completely delusional. Do you really believe that it has any place in making the laws of the land? Take your crutch of a religion and stuff it!!!

    June 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Artist


      I'm starting to believe that all people that give any creedance to the bible are completely delusional. Do you really believe that it has any place in making the laws of the land? Take your crutch of a religion and stuff it!!!


      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      June 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  8. Greg s

    Dont need the bible to know that if you fool around and get pregnant, men and Women then decide to abort (KILL) the child, Saying that child is not a child while its in the womb is so absurd, All of us know in our gut that that unborn is going to be a child in 9 months....to kill it is murder. I don't care how you justify it to yourself....I don't care if your justifying it just to keep that option open for yourself, Ask a women who had a abortion 10 years ago if she doesn't remember the day she had it and think of who that child would be today, Its murder folks plain and simple. MURDER! I don't need a bible to know what that means!

    June 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Matt

      The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with you. I tend to give more weight to them in legal matters.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Alan

      Wow, cool the jets there turbo, just because there is potential does not a human make. I do agree in the concept of unborn child which is why I don't support late term abortions but I think you are taking a bit of a hard line on this. Taking away a woman's right to control her own body is akin to moving us back to the dark ages.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Artist

      Okay Greg, what is your legal basis that it is murder? Simple question.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  9. MrDobalina MrBobDobalina

    😀 😉


    June 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  10. Charles

    Wow, you could only find one person to interview, and she seems kinda thin on ideas/opinions to boot. I wonder, did she get those opinions from her husband, or did she think of it all by herself? Just curious. Secondly, I know a lot of kids this age, and they all say the same thing: Who cares about gay marriage.....and a lot of them have families. I love the rights sly way of slurring people "protecting their families" as if gays are out to get em. What a joke, never had a gay person knock at my door and try to recruit me, but so far this week I have had three different evangical churches send missionaries....what, is the collection plate not full enough, need more money for the pastor's new BMW?

    June 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  11. KoolKeithRocks


    June 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Funny you post a video by William Lane Craig. When asked if he could board a time to go back to the time Jesus is crucified, witness this event, then wait 3 days, then more days and weeks and realized that Jesus never raised from his tomb, when asked if you still be a Christian, he said yes. Why? Because he experienced the holy spirit and no facts can beat that. How rational is that?

      June 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  12. Robita

    I don't know about Sarah's god, but mine says gay marriage is great! My god told me that, so shall we have our gods fight about it? I just can't tell you how much I hate you people who claim god wants this or god hates that. You DON'T KNOW! You can't know! You are idiots.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  13. Jeff

    @Anthony...so you want to lump in micro-evolution with macro-evolution? Also, are you labeling me as literally believing the bible? I've never claimed that. I'll tell you simply that I don't know. Mock the answer if you like, but the truth is that I don't have a problem with God and science existing simultaneously. I can't tell you how He did it, but I believe that He did it. I have some issues with Darwin's theory of evolution as it is, but I think he was certainly closer than anyone has been. I wish science would expound on his theory with what is known today. I think there is a lot of good work that could be done...

    June 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Macro evolution = micro evolution * a long time

      You can pick a good book on evolution if you are uncertain about a few things. Also, Darwin's theory has been significantly refined since he first proposed it.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jeff

      @Stephanie...the problem with that is there's not enough time. Sure, there's a LOT of time, but the issue for me is the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion. Too many fossils show up to close to each other not allowing enough time for Darwin's evolution to take place.

      ...again, I'm not anti-Darwin here at all, I just think there's more to it. I believe more work needs to be done to fill in the gaps.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Peter


      I think you are assuming that evolution must take a long time but that isn't always the case. Humans have observed evolution within a matter of decades (the famous case of moths changing color in GB). Evolution is on a time schedule based on the lifespan of the affected organism not a human lifespan.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Jeff

      @Peter...that's micro-evolution, right? The Cambrian explosion introduced us to most major animal groups within 5-10 million years...literally NO time as it relates to Darwin's theory.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Peter


      I know a couple of people with PhDs in biology fields. They do not distinguish between micro and macro evolution. They say it is a false dichotomy created by critics of evolution that has no basis in science. What these critics term as a 'macro-evolution' is really a series of 'micro-evolutions'. The Cambrian explosion took place over 70 million years. That is short in the grand scheme of things but if something causes a species of moths within a certain geographic area to change wing colors in 40 years that means there is an opportunity for 1.75 million small changes over the time period that the Cambrian explosion en-composed. Even if only 1750 changes of that magnitude occurred it is likely that you would consider the original moth to be the same species as the resulting creature.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Peter


      June 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Jeff

      @Peter...interesting! I was under the impression that the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion was only in 5-10 million years. Do you have a reference for me by chance? I'd love to take a look. 70 millions years still isn't a lot of time, but it becomes more feasible to be sure...especially given the moth example...

      June 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Peter

      I am not an expert in biology so I will admit I looked at Wikipedia. I double checked on Credo, which is a version of Wikipedia written by scientists. If you have access to a university library database you can look at it. It is subscription based otherwise (and a bit pricey).

      June 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Jeff

      @Peter...thanks...I'll take a look!

      Bottom line for me is that I think science would do well to continue Darwin's theory and take into account all we have discovered since Darwin's death. Again, I think Darwin was onto something and I would love for people smarter than me to fill in some of the blanks I believe still exist.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  14. NooneEveryone

    If one more religious person tries to shove their beliefs down my throat...

    Whose frickin God?

    What part of seperation of church and state don't these people understand.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Jeff

      Separation of church and state? You're on the wrong board...this article was just about a poll of Millennials...

      June 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  15. please

    Social issues are a POLITICAL TRICK to grab votes. Both sides focus on Aboration and Gay Marriage, but how much change to each has ACTUALLY happened in the last 30 years?


    We have more important issues to focus on like 3 wars, the economy and a failiing healthcare system.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  16. John

    What a useless article. I don't care what other people have to say about either issue, stay out of my doctor's office and stay out of my bedroom. Once the gov't doesn't have anything better to do, then we'll talk.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • andrew


      June 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  17. Erasmus

    Here's an interesting passage from the Bible (Numbers, Chapter 5, verse 11) regarding abortion. Doesn't get as much play as it should.

    11 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain-offering of jealousy, a grain-offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

    Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain-offering of remembrance, which is the grain-offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you’— let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—‘the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen. Amen.’

    Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. The priest shall take the grain-offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain-offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain-offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterwards shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.
    This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • andrew

      Yawn...what is your point? That it's interesting. I completely disagree with that contention.

      "Copy and paste" an argument do not make. Maybe try saying something next time.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Poppy

      Hey thats cool dude, last time I checked this was the USA and not the lost nation of Isreal. That was all fine and dandy for them but hey its cool. Just relax have a beer chill out. God is a big God and he can take care of all the judging himself...be excellent to others

      June 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Bushido

      You do realize that whole verse is about Adultery, right? Plus, if you are a Christian as you claim, you would know that when Jesus sacrificed himself a new covenant was formed with humankind, so old laws are meaningless. The only reference the bible ever makes to abortion in slightest is the two sentences about accidental feticide in Exodus 21:22,23. The punishment was to pay whatever the husband decided.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • William

      I dunno what translation you're using, but the actual passage mentions nothing about an unborn child. It has to do with adultery. It has nothing, at all, to do with an abortion. The basic idea is that if the woman cheats then she's cursed and undesirable otherwise nothing happens to her.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Granted, but ONLY if you folks agree that you will never again quote the OT to justify or support any argument, (as you seem to be doing in your last sentence).

      June 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Erasmus

      Pardon please my post and run. Had to get home. My point with the post is to point out for my Christion friends pretty much the only place in the Bilble that deals directly with abortion. The notion that this passage is about adutery and not the consequence under "God's" law is not true. The passage specifically has God directijng a husband to take his cheating wife to the priest who administers the holy abortificant. There is NOTHING in the NT that addresses this (appeals to the New Covenant of JC notwithstanding).

      As to the translation, it comes from the New Revised Standard Version. This text is faithful to the original to the extent discoverable. In Catholic and other versions the part about ths "womb discharging" gets translated as "her thigh will rot". This is the only reference in the bible to "thigh rotting". And why did religions change the clear language of the text? Because they did not want to have a passage in their book with abortion instructions from God, thats my guess.

      June 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  18. Davren

    Please don't condemn the Bible if you haven't actually read and studied it..That is not wise and you really make yourself look stupid.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Walter

      I have read three different versions. It is an interesting read but it makes a terrible guide to living if you take everything literally.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Free

      What if you have really read it and studied it? Can you criticize the Bible then?

      June 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Rand

      I just wrote my own Bible, how can you be a Christian when you haven't even read MY Bible? Oh, wait... Because it would be ridiculous to expect that. Also, reading it doesn't make you an expert. Most Christians don't know that the vast majority of the Bible was stolen from previous work. Just google "osiris and jesus" for one of MANY examples. Fact is, your not interested in the truth your interested in your religion. Christians listen up, its up to you to prove your religion, it is not up to everyone else to prove its false. YOUR the ones making ridiculous claims backed up by ZERO scientific evidence.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Kate

      You don't know whether the people making comments have read it or not. We all have a right to our own opinions. You look stupid for judging people without having full knowledge.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Lori

      I would like to translate the OP.

      What it really means is:

      'Don't make comments on what is in the bible unless you have read it and agree with my personal interpretation otherwise I will think you are stupid'

      That should clear up some confusion for everyone.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Dondi

      I have studied the bible in college (Bible as literature) by a Professor who followed the actual path of Jesus in Jerusalem. If anyone ever studies how the bible was created, you will realize how flawed it really is. If you wonder what I mean, man wrote it, church sanctioned it! Need I say more? The bible has wonderful things in it and yes if everyone followed it, the world would be a wonderful place. But, please do not use it as "This is the real law of the world"! The only real law existed long before the bible was ever created..look it up.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Hillary

      Dear Walter,

      You aren't supposed to take everything literally. Jesus would often use a hyperbole to make a point.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Yakobi.

      Please don't endorse your bible until you've read and studied ALL religious texts.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Walter


      'But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.'

      So what is the hyperbole in that? I don't disagree that there are lots of metaphors and hyperbole in the bible. It does seem that many Christians seem to forge that though.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  19. captnavenger

    What? EVERYBODY is conflicted about abortion. Nobody likes it. nobody wakes up in the morning and says, "Great idea! I'm gonna run out and get pregnant so I can get an abortion!

    This absurd notion that pro-abortion people think abortion is fun, rather than a necessary evil chosen by people who can't find another course, is exactly what is wrong with the entire argument in the first place. Who wrote this ridiculous article?

    June 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • andrew

      Thank you! It's truly unbelievable that more people don't say what you just said. We all have to make excruciating decisions sometimes. Choosing one path over the other does not make a person an "enthusiast."

      My family made the decision to take my grandpa off life support recently. It was terrible, and of course, he passed away. I did not purchase a subscription to "Grandpa Killer Magazine" or start telling my friends about how they should all try it out.

      I'm confident that we made the right decision, but it was a decision that I would rather never had to make.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. Matt

    Sarah Mattingley is an idiot.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.