Religion and Social Trends

Americans Evenly Divided on Constitutional Marriage Amendment

Majority oppose same-sex marriage in principle

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- About 6 in 10 Americans oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, although less than half support the idea of a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Republicans are more likely than independents or Democrats to favor such an amendment. At this point in time, same-sex marriage is not high on the list of issues voters will use to make up their minds when choosing a presidential candidate, although that may change when same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts in mid-May.

Background

There has been a good deal of discussion this year about the potential impact of the same-sex marriage issue on the presidential election.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has essentially ruled that Massachusetts cannot bar same-sex couples from getting legally married. Despite efforts by the Massachusetts governor and state legislature to intervene, most observers conclude that there will be a wave of highly publicized same-sex marriages taking place in Massachusetts after May 17, when the state will be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they request them. The issue could become even more complex if same-sex couples who are legally married in Massachusetts return to their home states and request that their marriages be officially recognized.

President George W. Bush has clearly stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, and it is quite possible that he will publicly endorse a constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman. At the same time, Democratic front-runner John Kerry is a senator from Massachusetts, and was 1 of 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 during the Clinton administration. Kerry has now publicly stated that he is opposed to gay marriage, but it is highly unlikely that he would favor a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to only a man and a woman.

It has not been lost on Bush re-election strategists that the Democratic convention this summer will take place in Boston -- no doubt opening up further opportunities for Republican strategists to attempt to associate Kerry, if he is the nominee, with that state's liberal same-sex marriage policy.

All in all, it is likely that the issue could be a central way in which Bush's re-election strategists attempt to differentiate his conservative positioning from that of current front-runner Kerry, assuming that Kerry gets the nomination.

Majority Opposes Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

There is no question that the majority of the American public opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage in principle. This past weekend's Gallup Poll updated a basic measure of Americans' attitudes on this issue, with the following results:

Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

 

Should be
valid

Should not be
valid

No
opinion

%

%

%

2004 Feb 6-8 ^

36

59

5

2003 Dec 15-16

31

65

4

2003 Oct 24-26

35

61

4

2003 Jun 27-29

39

55

6

2000 Jan 13-16

34

62

4

1999 Feb 8-9

35

62

3

1996 Mar 15-17

27

68

5

^

Asked of a half sample.



 

There has been only minimal variation in responses to this question over the last eight years, with opposition ranging from a high point of 68% in 1996, to a low point of 55% in June of this past year.

A TIME/CNN poll conducted Feb. 5-6 found essentially the same results, with 62% of Americans agreeing that "marriages between homosexual men or between homosexual women" should not be recognized as legal.

Attitudes toward gay and lesbian issues are strongly related to age. In this past weekend's Gallup Poll, 47% of Americans aged 18 to 49 say that same-sex marriages should be legally valid, compared with only 21% of those over 50.

There are partisan differences in the expected direction on this issue, but they are perhaps not as strong as would be supposed: 22% of Republicans say that same-sex marriages should be valid, compared with 44% of independents and 40% of Democrats. In short, even among Democrats, a majority opposes the legalization of gay marriage.

Constitutional Amendment?

Still, basic opposition to the concept of same-sex marriage is different from a desire to see the U.S. Constitution amended to prohibit it. Indeed, some Americans who oppose same-sex marriage in principle are apparently reluctant to push for the dramatic step of amending the Constitution as a way of addressing the issue.

Gallup's Feb. 6-8 poll shows a 12-point difference between the percentage of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage in general, and the percentage favoring a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being only between a man and a woman (thus barring marriages between gay or lesbian couples).

Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus barring marriages between gay or lesbian couples?

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

2004 Feb 6-8 ^

47%

47

6

2003 Jul 18-20

50%

45

5

^

Asked of a half sample.



In other words, 59% say that same-sex marriage should not be legal, while only 47% favor a constitutional amendment to that effect.

Several other polling organizations in recent weeks have asked about a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman, and all show the same basic split.

  • In the aforementioned TIME/CNN poll, 47% favor a constitutional amendment.
  • An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 58% of Americans agreed that each state should "make its own laws on homosexual marriage," while only 38% supported the idea of "amending the U.S. Constitution to make it illegal for homosexual couples to get married anywhere in the U.S."

Support for a constitutional amendment is split along partisan lines. Sixty-three percent of Republicans favor it, compared with 44% of independents and 36% of Democrats. Looked at differently, 60% of those who in the Feb. 6-8 poll said they would vote for Bush in a Bush-Kerry matchup support the amendment, compared with only 35% of those who said they would vote for Kerry.

How Important Will This Be as an Issue in the Presidential Campaign?

Some observers assume that the candidates' positions on this type of amendment will be a major litmus test used during the campaign. But every indicator in our polling over the years suggests that in the broadest sense, gay and lesbian issues are not highly salient to voters. Indeed, the weekend Gallup Poll included "same-sex marriage" in a list of 14 issues that respondents were asked to rate in terms of how important they would be in influencing their vote for president. Same-sex marriage was dead last in that list:

SUMMARY TABLE: IMPORTANCE OF ISSUES IN THIS YEAR'S PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

 

2004 Feb 6-8
(sorted by "extremely/very important")

Extremely
important

Very
important

Extremely/Very
important

%

%

%

Education

41

45

86

The economy

38

48

86

Terrorism

43

42

85

Healthcare

38

44

82

The situation in Iraq

39

41

80

Taxes

29

45

74

The federal budget deficit

30

42

72

Foreign affairs

21

44

65

The environment

25

37

62

Corporate corruption

23

37

60

Immigration

19

36

55

Gun policy

21

32

53

Abortion

22

30

52

Same-sex marriage

22

22

44



 

 

The percentage of various subgroups of the population who say that the issue will be extremely important is as follows:

Summary Table: Importance of Issues in This Year's Presidential Vote

 

% extremely important

Republicans

32

Independents

16

Democrats

20

Conservatives

31

Moderates

16

Liberals

19

Bush voters

30

Kerry voters

16



Two things are apparent here. First, conservative Republicans are more likely than liberal Democrats to think the same-sex marriage issue will be an important issue in their vote. Second, even among this conservative group, well less than half consider it to be extremely important.

Bottom Line

All in all, the issue of same-sex marriage is not one that is viewed as highly important at this point in time. Still, issues that do not initially appear to be important sometimes have a way of becoming symbolically significant in an election. In a close race, relatively minor issues can become the ones that sway enough voters to make a significant difference.

That type of scenario certainly may be possible this year in relation to same-sex marriage. The Bush campaign conceivably could be successful enough in using same-sex marriage as an indicator of Kerry's liberalism to sway some swing voters to vote Republican. At the same time, it is also possible that some more liberally oriented swing voters could be affected negatively if Bush is associated with more right-wing efforts to amend the Constitution to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying.

More generally, if the issue does become a hotly debated one in the coming campaign, it would appear that a candidate's position that in some way registers opposition to the basic concept of same-sex marriage would be most effective in terms of appealing to the largest number of voters.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 6-8, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/10585/Americans-Evenly-Divided-Constitutional-Marriage-Amendment.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030