Opposition To Gay Marriage Grows

Gay Marriage, Same Sex, Homosexual CBS/AP

Despite last month's Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that the state could not deny gays and lesbians the right to marry, Americans continue to oppose laws allowing homosexual couples to marry or to form civil unions -- and the number opposing gay marriage is higher now than it was in July before the Massachusetts action.

Some 61 percent of respondents in a CBS News/New York Times poll said they were against gay marriage, up from 55 percent in July, and only 34 percent said they favor gay marriage, down from 40 percent five months ago.

The public has reversed itself on the overall question of same-sex relations. Half now think homosexual relations between consenting adults should not be legal -- a reversal of opinion from the summer, when a majority of Americans thought they should be legal.

More than half now favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

At 49 percent, the percentage that thinks homosexual relations should not be legal is the highest recorded since the CBS News/New York Times Poll started asking the question in 1992. As recently as July, 54 percent thought such relations should be legal, while 39 percent thought they should not. Now, 41 percent think homosexual relations should be legal.

DO YOU THINK HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONS SHOULD BE LEGAL?

Yes
Now
41%
7/2003
54%
8/1992
41%

No
Now
49%
7/2003
39%
8/1992
44%


Attitudes on this matter have changed among nearly all demographic groups, but opinions of men have changed dramatically. Men now think homosexual relations should not be legal by 50 percent to 40 percent. Back in July, 56 percent of men thought homosexual relations should be legal, while just 36 percent thought they should be outlawed.

GAY MARRIAGE AND CIVIL UNIONS
61 percent oppose a law allowing homosexual couples to marry, giving them the same legal rights as other married couples; 34 percent favor allowing gay couples to marry. In July 55 percent opposed gay marriage, while four in ten supported it.

GAY MARRIAGE

Favor
Now
34%
7/2003
40%

Oppose
Now
61%
7/2003
55%


While the public is somewhat more open to the idea of same-sex couples forming civil unions, more than half are against a law permitting that. 54 percent are opposed to gay couples forming civil unions giving them the same legal rights as married couples, but four in ten favor civil unions.

GAY CIVIL UNIONS

Favor
39%
Oppose
54%

The only proponents of both gay marriage and civil unions are Americans under age 30, liberals, and those who know a gay or lesbian person. Even among those who know a gay or lesbian person, gay marriage is favored by a narrow margin of 49 percent to 46 percent. Overall, 44 percent of Americans know someone who is gay or lesbian, but even more -- 54 percent -- of those under age 30 say they know a gay or lesbian person.

While men and women oppose both gay marriage and civil unions, women are more supportive of these ideas than men. 43 percent of women favor homosexual couples forming civil unions compared to just 35 percent of men. The differences between men and women on the question of gay marriage are similar. Women are also more likely than men to know a gay person or a gay couple.

VIEWS OF MEN AND WOMEN

Civil Unions

Favor
Men
35%
Women
43%

Oppose
Men
56%
Women
51%


Gay Marriage

Favor
Men
30%
Women
38%

Oppose
Men
65%
Women
57%


Homosexual Relations

Legal
Men
40%
Women
43%

Not legal
Men
50%
Women
49%


Other factors that affect attitudes toward gay marriage and civil unions include religion, education and opinion on whether being homosexual is a choice or the way a person is born.

White evangelical Christians who say religion is extremely important to them are strongly opposed to gay civil unions (as well as gay marriage): 77 percent oppose a law allowing homosexual couples to form civil unions. Catholics are less likely than Protestants to oppose gay civil unions; half oppose gay civil unions, but among Protestants that figure is 62 percent.

Americans with at least a college degree favor gay civil unions by 52 percent to 42 percent, but Americans with less than a college education oppose these unions. However, college graduates oppose a law allowing homosexual couples to marry.

Views on whether homosexuality is a personal choice or something that cannot be changed greatly influences opinions on gay marriage, civil unions, and homosexual relations. Americans are split on this: 44 percent think homosexuality is something a person cannot change, but just as many -- 44 percent -- think being homosexual is something people choose to be.

IS HOMOSEXUALITY A CHOICE OR SOMETHING THAT CANNOT BE CHANGED?

Choice
44%
Cannot change
44%

Majorities of those who believe homosexuality is something people cannot change favor gay marriage, civil unions, and believe homosexual relations should be legal. People who think being gay is a personal choice are strongly opposed to both gay marriage and civil unions and would outlaw sex between members of the same sex.

Homosexuality is a choice

Favor civil unions
19%
Oppose civil unions
76%

Favor Gay marriage
15%
Oppose Gay marriage
81%

Homosexual relations legal
21%
Homosexual relations not legal
70%


Homosexuality cannot be changed

Favor civil unions
61%
Oppose civil unions
31%

Favor Gay marriage
55%
Oppose Gay marriage
40%

Homosexual relations legal
63%
Homosexual relations not legal
28%


There are gender differences on this question. Men think homosexuality is a choice, while women disagree. People who know someone who is gay or lesbian are more likely than those who don't to say that homosexuality is something that cannot be changed.

White evangelical Christians for whom religion is extremely important are very likely to say homosexuality is a choice; more than three-quarters of this group think that.

Whites and blacks also have different opinions on this question. 48 percent of whites think being homosexual is something that cannot be changed, but nearly seven in 10 African Americans say homosexuality is something that is chosen. Blacks are less supportive than whites of civil unions, gay marriage and legal homosexual relations.

RELIGION AND MARRIAGE
Americans view marriage more as a religious rather than a legal matter. Overall, 53 percent of Americans think of marriage as a religious matter, while a third see it as a legal matter.

DO YOU THINK OF MARRIAGE AS A …

Mostly legal matter
33%
Mostly religious matter
53%

By a large margin of 71 percent to 24 percent, those who think of marriage as mostly a religious matter oppose a law allowing homosexuals to marry. Those who view marriage as mostly a legal matter support a law allowing gay couples to marry by 55 percent to 42 percent.

Think Of Marriage As …

Religious Matter

Favor Gay Marriage
24%
Oppose Gay Marriage
71%


Legal Matter
Favor Gay Marriage
55%
Oppose Gay Marriage
42%


Americans have strong opinions against gay couples getting married in places of worship. Six in ten say it would not be acceptable to have couples of the same sex marry in their own place of worship. And nearly all Americans believe the public in general would find same-sex marriage in their churches, synagogues, or places of worship unacceptable. 87 percent say that most people would find gay marriage in their place of worship unacceptable.

DO YOU THINK IT IS ACCEPTABLE FOR COUPLES OF THE SAME SEX TO
MARRY IN YOUR CHURCH?


Yes
32%
No
60%


MARRIAGE AND THE LAW
Currently, the laws governing marriage are determined by individual states, but there has been a recent push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. In this poll, more than half of Americans say they would favor that amendment, and 40 percent would oppose it.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THAT WOULD ALLOW MARRIAGE ONLY BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN

Favor
55%
Oppose
40%


Those under age 30 are opposed to an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman by 52 percent to 44 percent. All other age groups support such an amendment. Seniors are among the most supportive: 69 percent of those age 65 and over favor a constitutional amendment, while just 27 percent oppose it.

GOVERNMENT AND VALUES
The case of gay marriage and the opinions it provokes may be special; in general, Americans do not think the government should be involved in promoting traditional values. 50 percent say the government should not favor one set of values over another, while 43 percent think the government should do more to promote traditional values. These views have not changed much since July of 2000.

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD …

Promote traditional values

Now
43%
7/2000
41%


Not favor one set of values

Now
50%
7/2000
52%


Many Democrats do not support gay marriage, and it may not be an issue that is weighing heavily on Democratic voters' minds. 45 percent of Democratic primary voters say the Democratic nominee's stance on gay marriage does not matter to them. Only 15 percent say they would like a nominee who supports gay marriage, while 40 percent would prefer a nominee who opposes it. Most of the current Democratic candidates for president oppose gay marriage, but all of the major Democratic candidates support gay civil unions in some form.

HOMOSEXUALITY AND MORALITY
Opinions on the morality of homosexual relations have not changed substantially in the last 10 years, but fewer people now view homosexual relations as morally wrong than did a decade ago. 49 percent of Americans now think homosexual relations between adults are morally wrong, compared to 55 percent who thought that way back in February 1993. A bit more recently, in 1996, 52 percent thought homosexual relations were morally wrong.

HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONS ARE …

Morally wrong

Now
49%
2/1996
52%
2/1993
55%


OK

Now
13%
2/1996
12%
2/1993
9%


Don't care

Now
36%
2/1996
34%
2/1993
33%


While Americans may be reluctant to say they fully endorse the idea of homosexual relations (just 13 percent now describe them as being "ok"), 36 percent say they don't care either way.



The December 10-13, 2003 poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1057 adults interviewed by telephone. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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