Democratic convention delegates generally are more open to the prospect of same-sex marriage than are John Kerry and John Edwards, their presumed nominees for the presidential ticket. An Associated Press survey of Democratic National Convention delegates found that roughly 41% said they favored marriage for same-sex couples, while about 21% opposed it. Most of the remaining delegates said their position didn't fit into a "favor" or "oppose" response or refused to answer the question. Kerry and Edwards oppose same-sex marriage itself but also are against a constitutional ban on it, wanting to allow states to decide the issue. Kerry backs civil unions, which would give same-sex couples the same state-level rights, though not federal rights, that married couples enjoy.
Overall, delegates' opinions on same-sex marriage run contrary to public opinion. For instance, a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday found that those who opposed gay marriage outnumbered those in favor, 67% to 32%. Among only Democrats it was 47% opposed, 41% in favor, the Pew poll found. Convention delegates typically come from the most loyal and activist wing of a political party. Democratic officials say gays will be represented in record numbers on the convention floor, boosted by delegate recruiting efforts in some states. "For a group of Democratic Party activists, who tend to be more liberal than the general population and even rank-and-file Democrats, it's not totally surprising," said Paul Watanabe, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The city plays host to the convention starting Monday.
The AP surveyed more than 3,100 delegates, or nearly three quarters of the 4,300-plus who will attend the convention. The results revealed differences along some geographic and racial lines. About 80% of the delegation from Massachusetts, the only state in which gay couples can legally marry, favored gay marriage. About 61% of California's delegates shared the same view, along with some 45% of New York's delegation. But delegates from Southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi tended to oppose same-sex marriage. Those differences mirrored results from a Pew Research Center poll conducted in January that found Southern Democrats opposed gay marriage by a margin of 65% to 26%, while Democrats outside the South favored it 51% to 42%.
Meanwhile, some 39% of black delegates nationwide opposed same-sex marriage, while 24% were in favor. Among white or Hispanic delegates, a majority in each group favored same-sex nuptials. A Pew poll released in November found that 60% of blacks opposed same-sex marriage. And exit polling conducted after primaries March 10 in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas found that over half of black voters opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriage. While blacks' positions on gay marriage may be more conservative, the issue likely won't keep them from the polls in November, says Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "It won't be a problem at all...it's not a voting issue," Black says.