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Support Grows For Same-Sex Marriage

The California Supreme Court today ruled that Proposition 8, the ballot measure passed by voters in November that effectively banned same-sex marriage in the state, is Constitutional.

Despite the measure and ruling, however, recent polling shows that support for same-sex marriage in the state appears to be growing. A Field Poll released in March finds that 45 percent of California voters say gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. This number is up from 36 percent in 2006. Another third (34 percent) now support civil unions. (See graphic above.)

California Democrats (58 percent), women (50 percent), liberals (80 percent), younger voters, and those who know a person who is gay or lesbian are more likely to back same-sex marriage.

This poll also asks a similar question offering just two options: "Do you approve or disapprove of California allowing homosexuals to marry members of their own sex and have regular marriage laws apply to them?

In this instance opinions are more divided, with 49 percent of California voters who approve, while 44 percent disapprove. The Field Poll has been asking this question since 1977. Back then, only 28 percent favored permitting homosexuals to marry and most - 59 percent - disapproved.

While all eyes may be on California today, there are two blue states on the east coast where pivotal decisions on same-sex marriage may soon be made: New York and New Jersey. In New York, the State Assembly recently passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by a vote of 89-52 and the State Senate is expected to take up a measure before their legislative session ends in June. In the Garden State, the state legislature may act on the issue before the end of the year.

In both New York and New Jersey, the Quinnipiac Poll finds four in 10 voters favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry: 40 percent in New York and 42 percent in New Jersey. Another three in ten back civil unions. Roughly two in ten in both states favor no legal recognition.

The Quinnipiac Poll also asked a question on same-sex marriage offering just two options: "Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married?"

On this question New York voters are split, with 46 percent in support and 46 percent opposed. New Jersey voters are slightly more in favor of marriage for same-sex couples: 49 percent support it while 43 percent are against it.

As same-sex marriage becomes legal in more states (it is currently legal in five), support for it nationwide has also increased. According to a CBS News/New York Times Poll released in April, 42 percent of Americans think same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, the highest since CBS News starting asking about it in 2004, when just 22 percent said it was okay for gay and lesbians to marry. Another quarter of Americans now back civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, while 28 percent do not think there should be legal recognition of a same-sex couple's relationship.

Support for same-sex marriage has increased among nearly all demographic groups over the last five years. Today liberals are one of the strongest backers of same-sex marriage, with 69 percent in favor of permitting it. In March 2004, just 41 percent of liberals supported the idea.

Fifty-two percent of Democrats now think gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, compared to 28 percent five years ago. There has even been an uptick in support among Republicans and conservatives, with about twice as many supporting the idea now (18 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of conservatives) than five years ago (10 percent of both Republicans and conservatives). Majorities of these two groups still do not approve of legally recognizing same-sex relationships, however.

Higher numbers of both men and women approve of same-sex marriage today, but more women (45 percent) than men (38 percent) continue to favor permitting it which was also the case in 2004.

Some opponents of marriage between gay and lesbian couples have argued that same-sex marriage is a threat to traditional marriage between a man and woman, but a nationwide Quinnipiac Poll conducted last month finds that most Americans (58 percent) disagree with that sentiment.

According to that same poll, however, fewer than half of Americans (45 percent) say that not allowing same-sex couples to marry amounts to discrimination. A slim majority (51 percent) disagrees.

Jennifer De Pinto is manager of election and survey information for CBS News. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.
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