According to a CBS News poll, most Americans oppose gay marriage - and opposition appears to be increasing.
However, support for a constitutional amendment rises and falls with the way that the amendment is worded. The issue seems likely to play a role in the fall presidential election, particularly for those who are opposed to same-sex marriages.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
In a CBS News poll conducted immediately after President Bush endorsed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, 59% of Americans said they would favor an amendment to the Constitution that would "allow marriage only between a man and a woman," up slightly from 55% last December.
In a separate question that asked if they would support a constitutional amendment that would "allow marriage only between a man and a women and outlaw marriages between people of the same sex," support declines, but 51% would still support such an amendment.
When a question is asked without reference to a possible constitutional amendment, even more oppose legalizing gay marriage. Sixty-two percent of Americans oppose a law that would allow homosexual couples to marry and obtain the same legal rights as other married couples; just 30% favor gay marriage.
The public seems to have become even less receptive toward gay marriage in the past seven months. Although a majority has always opposed gay marriage, last July, 40% said they would favor allowing homosexual couples to legally marry, as did 34% in December. That figure is now 30%.
Republicans, conservatives, and people in the South are the most likely to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage – about three-quarters of each group does. Majorities of Democrats, Independents, moderates, those without a college degree, and those in the Midwestern and Western regions also favor a marriage amendment.
Opponents of the constitutional amendment include liberals (62%) and those who have a college degree or higher education (51%). Northeasterners are slightly more likely to oppose the amendment than support it, 49% to 45%. Young Americans under age 30 are more likely than older people to oppose the amendment, but a majority of them still favors it.
GAY MARRIAGE AND VOTING
Voters do not cite gay marriage as the main issue they want to hear about this year. Far more name the economy, jobs and the war – but the issue may still have an impact on voting.
Only 4% of voters see gay marriage as the main issue they would like the candidates to address in this election year, far behind the economy (25%), health care (13%) and the war in Iraq (also 13%). Gay marriage is named by more voters than is abortion (1%), and it is clearly the most relevant social issue to voters today.
Just over half of voters, 52%, say they would consider voting for a candidate who does not share their views on gay marriage.
Opponents of the legalization of gay marriage are less willing than those who favor it to look beyond a candidate's position on the issue. Fifty-three percent of voters who oppose gay marriage would not consider voting for a candidate who doesn't share their view.
Similarly, 55% of voters who favor a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage say they would never vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on the issue of gay marriage.
Republican voters, conservatives and those age 65 or older are among the least flexible on this issue. Majorities of those groups would not consider supporting a candidate who has a different view. In recent presidential elections, voters 65 and older have given Democratic candidates a narrow lead. By 51% to 42%, voters in the South also say they will not vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on the issue.
Proponents of gay marriage, however, are less likely to give the issue a central role in their decision-making. Three-quarters of them would consider voting for a candidate who holds a different position than they do on the matter.
Among those voters who say religion is extremely important to them, 61% would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on gay marriage.
Neither leading Democrat supports the legalization of gay marriages, but both oppose a constitutional amendment outlawing them. President Bush supports such an amendment. It is unclear at the moment how the issue would play out in November, and whether those who favor an amendment would still vote Democratic.
One potential Democratic loss could come from black voters, 58% of whom say they would not consider voting for a candidate who doesn't share their views on the issue of gay marriage.
Nearly all of those black voters who would not consider such a candidate are opposed to legalizing gay marriage. However, as of now, black voters would overwhelmingly vote Democratic in November. Three-quarters disapprove of Mr. Bush's job performance as president, and 82% now say they would vote Democratic in the November presidential election.
Right now, voters who favor the marriage amendment and won't consider a candidate who disagrees with them on the issue of gay marriage are conservative, religious, and Southern. Fifty-one% of these voters describe themselves as conservatives; 86% of them say religion is very important to them (including 50% who say it is extremely important), and 45% live in the South.
Fifty-six percent in this voter group are women; 54% have a high school education or less. In addition, 63% of these voters approve of Mr. Bush's job as president, and half have a favorable opinion of the president (compared with 44% of voters overall). Fifty-four percent of this voter group say they would vote for Bush in November; 41% would vote for the Democratic candidate.