More than half of Americans favor a law banning gay marriage and specifying that wedlock be between a man and a woman, an Associated Press poll has found. The survey also found that presidential candidates could face a backlash if they support gay marriage or civil unions, which provide gay couples the legal rights and benefits of marriage. The poll, conducted for the AP by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa., found that 52% of respondents favor a law banning gay marriage, while 41% oppose such a law.
About four in 10--41%--support allowing civil unions, roughly the same level found in an AP poll conducted three years ago. But 53% now say they oppose civil unions, up from 46% in the earlier survey. The increase came largely from people who previously were undecided, the polls suggested.
Close to half those surveyed said they would be less likely to support a presidential candidate who backs civil unions (44%) or gay marriage (49%), while only around 10% said they would be more
"I don't think it's a great idea; the whole idea of marriage is bringing up children," said Jim Martin, a 64-year-old engineer from Alexandria, Va. "If somebody was promoting it, I would vote against them."
The issue poses a challenge for the Democratic presidential candidates in the 2004 election. The six leading candidates say they oppose gay marriage but are sharply critical of efforts to legally ban it, either with a law or by amending the Constitution. Four of the six--former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Missouri representative Dick Gephardt, Florida senator Bob Graham, and Massachusetts senator John Kerry--say they support civil unions. North Carolina senator John Edwards and Connecticut
senator Joe Lieberman say they favor benefits for gay partners but say states should decide on civil unions.
President Bush has said he supports efforts to legally ban gay marriage but encourages tolerance of gays and lesbians.
In the AP poll about one third of people who identified themselves as Democrats and independents said they would be less likely to support a candidate who backs civil unions. Twice as many Republicans said they feel that way. More than four in 10 Democrats support passing laws against gay marriage, according to the poll. Two thirds of Republicans support passing such laws.
Gay rights has received increased attention since June, when the Supreme Court threw out a Texas law criminalizing gay sex, saying such a ban violated constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights. The decision mobilized Christian conservatives, who warned that it could lead to legalization of gay marriage. The poll found that 54% of respondents favor a constitutional amendment saying that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples, while 42% oppose such an amendment.
At least some of those surveyed who back gay marriage say the issue could determine how they vote in 2004. "It might make a significant difference in whether I would support a candidate," said Jody Moore, a graduate student living in the suburbs of Los Angeles who favors gay marriage. "It's a question of dignity."
The AP poll also suggested that attitudes vary by age. Support for civil unions and opposition to laws against gay marriage were significantly higher among young adults and dipped progressively among older age groups. Men were more likely than women to oppose gay marriage and support laws against it. And residents of more rural areas were significantly more likely to favor laws against civil unions and gay marriage.
The poll of 1,028 adults from every state but Alaska and Hawaii was conducted August 8-12 and has an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.