Poll: Few Favor Same-Sex Marriage

Gay Marriage, Same Sex, Homosexual CBS/AP

Americans continue to oppose the idea of same-sex marriage and would support a constitutional amendment to ban it. Yet most do not feel that the issue should be part of the 2004 Election campaign, or that it is important enough to warrant the effort to change the Constitution – though opponents of same-sex marriage believe that it is.

In fact, opponents are much more likely to view same-sex marriage as an issue that will make a critical difference in how they vote in November, and that group currently supports George W. Bush.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

A constitutional amendment that would allow marriage only between a man and a woman has the support of nearly six in ten Americans. 35% oppose such an amendment. In December 55% favored changing the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.

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

Now
Favor
59%
Oppose
35%

12/2003
Favor
55%
Oppose
40%

Many people make a distinction between same-sex marriage and civil unions, which would provide same-sex couples some legal rights. Although fewer than one-fourth of Americans think gay and lesbian people should be allowed to marry, there is larger support for permitting civil unions. All in all, over half of Americans support some type of legal status for same-sex couples who wish to make a long-term commitment. 40% think same-sex couples' relationships ought to have no legal recognition.

SAME-SEX COUPLES SHOULD BE ALLOWED:
To legally marry
22%
To form civil unions
33%
No legal recognition
40

On both these questions - opposition to same-sex marriage and support for a constitutional amendment that would ban it - Republicans and Democrats have different views. 77% of Republicans favor a constitutional ban, while Democrats are more divided on the issue, with 52% in favor and 44% opposed. Most Republicans think there ought to be no legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples, while Democrats are more likely to say either marriages or civil unions should be permitted.

56% of liberals oppose an amendment banning same-sex marriage, while 79% of conservatives favor one. Younger people are more accepting than those age 65 or older of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, though a majority in both age groups favor an amendment. 32% of Americans under 30 think gay and lesbian couples ought to be allowed to marry, compared to just 8% of those 65 and older.

In addition, African Americans oppose same-sex marriage and 67% of them favor the constitutional amendment.

WILL IT MATTER IN NOVEMBER?

Views on same-sex marriage may decide the candidate choice next November for 44% of voters. While 45% say they could vote for someone who disagrees with their position on that issue, almost as many – 44% - say they could NOT vote for a candidate who disagreed with them. This is especially true of voters who back the constitutional amendment, most of whom would not support a candidate who did not share their view.

However, most voters would prefer this issue not be a part of the election campaign. 65% say it should play no part in the contest, and only 14% think it should have a major role. Even 58% of voters who want a constitutional amendment do not think the issue should be part of the campaign.

SHOULD SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BE PART OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN?
(Registered voters)
Yes, major part
14%
Yes, minor part
17%
No
65

The President has stated that he wants a constitutional amendment defining marriage to be only between a man and a woman, and he already has the votes of most of those on his side who say it will be a voting issue. Among voters who support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage AND say it's a voting issue to them, Bush leads Kerry 69% to 22%. Most of these voters are Republicans, so Bush support would be expected. Supporters of an amendment who say it's not the determining issue in their vote favor Kerry, 49% to 41%.

African-American voters, many of whom say they are concerned about this as a voting issue, still overwhelmingly say they will vote for John Kerry.

This intensity of feeling among supporters of the constitutional amendment is clear when the question is phrased is terms of whether the issue is an "important enough issue to be worth changing the Constitution." Overall, 56% think defining marriage as only between a man and a woman is not an important enough issue to warrant changing the Constitution. Yet most - 57% - who support the amendment think the issue merits a change to the Constitution.

There is no consensus about the role of government in this issue. 43% think laws regarding same-sex marriage and civil unions ought to be handled at the federal government level, and 44% think those issues are best left to state governments.

Feelings on this run contrary to traditional party ideologies: most Republicans want the matter handled by the federal government, but Democrats are more likely to prefer it be left to the states.

VIEWS ON HOMOSEXUALITY

Views on homosexuality shape views on same-sex marriage: those who believe that being gay or lesbian is a choice that one makes, rather than something a person does not choose, oppose same-sex marriage. And those on both sides of the issue are seen as fighting a larger fight about homosexuality itself, rather than just about the rights and the sanctity of marriage.

Americans divide on their view of homosexuality: 43% believe it is a choice that people make, and 41% believe it to be something that people cannot choose.

Of those who believe homosexuality is a choice, only 34% say gays and lesbians should be able to marry or form civil unions while 64% say same-sex couples should have no legal recognition. Among those who believe homosexuality is not a choice, 37% think same-sex couples ought to be permitted to marry, and another 41% think same-sex couples should be allowed to form civil unions, and just 17% say there should be no recognition at all.

Similarly, 77% of those who view homosexuality as a choice support the amendment, while those who think being homosexual is something that cannot be changed oppose it (although by a smaller margin).

Religiosity also plays a large role in how people view same-sex marriage. Three in four people who say religion is extremely important in their lives would favor a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, and three in five think there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. But those who say religion is only somewhat or not important to them are much more accepting of same-sex marriage, and most would oppose a constitutional amendment.

VIEWS OF THE TWO SIDES

One of the most common reasons given against permitting same-sex marriage is that it will erode the status of traditional marriage. Yet few Americans think that is the real reason that people oppose it.

Asked to describe what they see as the main motivation behind those who oppose same-sex marriage, nearly three quarters of Americans – on both sides of the issue -- say that opponents' motivations are mainly the belief that homosexuality is wrong, not concern over its impact on marriage.

REASON MOST PEOPLE WHO OPPOSE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DO SO?
Concern about effect on traditional marriage
16%
Believe homosexuality is wrong
72%

Views of the motives of supporters of same-sex marriage are more mixed. 37% think supporters back same-sex marriage because they want to see gays and lesbians receive the same legal rights that other married people have. But nearly half – 48% - describe those who support same-sex marriage as striving to get society to approve of the way gays and lesbians live.

REASON MOST PEOPLE WHO FAVOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DO SO?
To obtain legal rights for gays
37%
To get society to approve of gays
48%

The opponents of same-sex marriage are more likely to view those who disagree with them as thinking of this as a general struggle for the acceptance of homosexuality and homosexuals. Among those who support same-sex marriage, 64% think they do so in order for gay and lesbian people to receive the same legal rights as heterosexuals have.

When it comes to the seriousness with which heterosexuals and homosexuals enter into long-term commitments, Americans see little difference. In fact, less than half think most couples of either group expect their arrangement to last forever.

Asked if people who get married expect their marriages to last forever, or expect to someday divorce, 47% said most people enter marriage expecting it to last forever. A different sample was asked this question of same-sex couples, and nearly the same number – 44% - said those same-sex couples expected their relationships to last forever. One-quarter had no opinion.

Nearly half the public knows a gay or lesbian couple that has been together more than a year, a factor that makes a difference in support or opposition to a constitutional amendment limiting marriage. 15% say they know such couples who are raising children. But only 8% of Americans know a same-sex couple who has received some kind of legal recognition of their status.

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

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1206 adults, interviewed by telephone March 10-14, 2004, including 984 registered voters. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample and for registered voters could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.

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