Opposition to Legalized Same-Sex Marriage Steady

by Frank Newport

Support for civil unions increases

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- There has been little change in basic attitudes toward legalized same-sex marriage in recent months. Similarly, there has been no change in support levels for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between only a man and a woman. These patterns have persisted despite the extensive media focus on same-sex marriages in California, New York, and other states, and the elevation of the issue to national significance by President George W. Bush's extraordinary call for a constitutional amendment that restricts marriage to a man and a woman. At the same time, support has increased for the concept of same-sex civil unions, which confer some of the same benefits as marriage, perhaps because some Americans view this as an acceptable alternative to fully legal same-sex marriage.

1. Basic Attitudes Toward Legalized Same-Sex Marriage

Sixty-one percent of Americans in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted March 5-7, say that marriages between homosexuals should not be recognized as legally valid, while 33% say they should be. The current responses are statistically no different from responses obtained in four separate Gallup Poll surveys conducted since October 2003.

From a longer-range perspective, the current level of opposition to legalized same-sex marriage is little changed from responses in surveys that stretch back to 1999, with the exception of one survey in June 2003 in which opposition dropped slightly, to 55%.

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

In short, the evidence suggests that neither the recent spate of same-sex marriages being performed in defiance of the law, nor the president's highly visible opposition to gay and lesbian marriages, have fundamentally altered the American public's basic attitudes. Roughly 6 in 10 Americans remain opposed to same-sex marriage, with only about a third supporting the concept.

2. Support for a Constitutional Amendment Restricting Marriage to a Man and a Woman

There has also been no significant change in support for the concept of a constitutional amendment that would legally define marriage as being between only a man and a woman.

Support for such an amendment has ranged between 47% and 53% in four Gallup surveys conducted since June 2003, while opposition has been in an even narrower range between 44% and 47%.

Bush made his support for such an amendment official on Feb. 24, but the comparison of the last survey taken before that announcement (Feb. 9-12), and this past weekend's March 5-7 survey suggests that the president's announcement had no apparent impact on the public's feelings about such a step -- in either direction.

A comparison of responses to the basic "legal same-sex marriage" question and this question relating to a constitutional amendment shows there is a drop off of 11 points between those who believe that same-sex marriage should not be legal and those willing to support a constitutional amendment to that effect. Apparently, a number of Americans do not believe that the issue warrants such a high level of legal response.

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?

3. Support for Same-Sex "Civil Unions"

While there has been essentially no change in attitudes toward legalized same-sex marriage or in support for a constitutional amendment that would address this issue, support has increased for the concept of a legal civil union that would give homosexual couples some of the legal rights married couples have. In the current March 5-7 poll, support for civil unions is at 54%, the highest level of support measured across the eight times this question has been asked since 2000. Current support for civil unions is particularly high compared with last summer's readings when Gallup observed a drop in support, most likely as a result of a backlash against a Supreme Court decision in a Texas sodomy case.

Would you favor or oppose a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples?

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

2004 Mar 5-7

54%

42

4



Trends for Comparison: Asked in polls without questions on gay marriage

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

%

%

%

2003 Jul 25-27

40

57

3

2003 May 5-7

49

49

2

2002 May 6-9

46

51

3

2002 Apr 8-11

45

46

9

2002 Feb 8-10

41

53

6

2001 May 10-14

44

52

4

2000 Oct 25-28 ^

42

54

4

^

WORDING: Suppose that on election day this year you could vote on key issues as well as candidates. Please tell me whether you would vote for or against each one of the following propositions. Would you vote -- [RANDOM ORDER]? (For or against a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples)



It may well be that the increase in support for civil unions has occurred because of the increased media focus on legalized gay marriage. With the possibility of full, legalized same-sex marriage looming on the horizon, some Americans may consider the concept of a modified civil union to be a "least worst" and/or more acceptable alternative.

It should be pointed out that in the March 5-7 questionnaire, the civil unions issue was addressed after the respondents had been asked about legalized same-sex marriage in general, and after they had been asked about the concept of a constitutional amendment. Thus, it is possible that this arrangement of questions, which essentially reminded respondents of the constitutional amendment possibility, increased the observed levels of support for civil unions over what they would be if gay marriage had not been discussed.

At any rate, the data suggest that one apparent consequence of the debate on legalized same-sex marriage has been a growing acceptance of the less-drastic civil unions as a form of legalized protection for gay and lesbian couples seeking the legal benefits and protection provided heterosexual married couples.

4. What Should Be Done Right Now Vis-à-Vis Local Officials Sanctioning Same-Sex Marriage?

The majority of Americans are clearly opposed to the same-sex marriage ceremonies now being allowed in defiance of state law in San Francisco, New Paltz, N.Y., and elsewhere.

Sixty-five percent of Americans interviewed in the March 5-7 poll say that city officials should be "forced to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples." In response to a different question, only 7% say that public officials should marry gay and lesbian couples even if it is against the law in their state, while -- at the other extreme -- 41% say that gay and lesbian couples should not be married even if it is legal in their state.

As you may know, city officials in California and New York have issued marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples even though the attorneys general in those states say it is against the law. Do you think these city officials should -- or should not -- be forced to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples?
March 5-7, 2004
Do you think public officials should -- marry gay and lesbian couples even if it is against the law in their state, marry gay and lesbian couples only if it is legal in their state, or should they not marry gay and lesbian couples even if it is legal in their state?
March 5-7, 2004

Bottom Line

There has been little significant change either in Americans' basic attitudes toward legalized same-sex marriage or in support for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between only a man and a woman. The majority of Americans remain opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in principle, while exactly half now support a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban gay and lesbian marriages.

This stability has occurred despite the extraordinary events of the past month or two, which have included a growing number of municipalities issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in defiance of their state laws, and in spite of Bush's elevation of the issue to the federal level by proposing a constitutional marriage amendment.

At the same time, support for the concept of legalized same-sex civil unions has increased, perhaps because it seems like a viable alternative to the idea of legalized same-sex marriage.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-7, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects 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.

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 Mar 5-7

33

61

6

2004 Feb 16-17

32

64

4

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.



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 Mar 5-7

50

45

5

2004 Feb 9-12

53

44

3

2004 Feb 6-8 ^

47

47

6

2003 Jul 18-20

50

45

5

^

Asked of a half sample.



As you may know, city officials in California and New York have issued marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples even though the attorneys general in those states say it is against the law. Do you think these city officials should – or should not – be forced to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples?

BASED ON –503—NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

2004 Mar 5-7

65%

31

4



Do you think public officials should – [ROTATED: marry gay and lesbian couples even if it is against the law in their state, marry gay and lesbian couples only if it is legal in their state, or should they not marry gay and lesbian couples even if it is legal in their state]?

BASED ON –502—NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

Marry couples,
even if
against the
law


Marry
couples,
only if legal

Not marry
couples,
even if legal


No
opinion

2004 Mar 5-7

7%

47

41

5



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