A recent poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News found that a majority of Americans support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would permanently ban gay marriage. The nationwide poll found that 55% of Americans favor an amendment to the constitution that would allow marriage between only a man and a woman, while 40% oppose the idea. The findings come after the highest court in Massachusetts ruled 4-3 last month that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, ordering the legislature to come up with a solution within 180 days that would grant same-sex couples the rights of marriage.
According to the poll, support for a federal constitutional amendment comes from a wide range of people. Many are those traditionally viewed as supportive of gay rights, the paper said, including Democrats, women, and people who live on the East Coast. Attitudes on the subject seem to be inextricably linked to how people view marriage itself. For a majority of Americans--53%--
marriage is largely a religious matter. Seventy-one percent of those people oppose gay marriage. Similarly, 33% of Americans say marriage is largely a legal matter and a majority of those people--55%--say they support gay marriage. The most positive feelings toward gay people were registered among respondents under 30 and those who know gay people.
Political experts are citing the new poll as evidence that the gay marriage issue will likely become a divisive one for the Democrats and an opportunity for the Republicans in the 2004 election. President Bush had avoided taking a position on the proposed amendment, versions of which have been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate. But last week Bush for the first time voiced his support, saying, "I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that."
The poll was conducted from December 10 through December 13 in telephone interviews with 1,057 people. It carries a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Responses about gay rights tend to be influenced somewhat by the wording of the questions. This poll and other surveys show that as the courts have extended legal rights to gays this year, Americans have become increasingly uncomfortable with same-sex relations. For decades, a majority of Americans have not approved of gay relations, the Times said. That had begun to change, until the U.S. Supreme Court's pro-sodomy ruling in June and the Massachusetts ruling in November. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in July found that 54% of respondents said gay sex should be legal. Only 41% of the respondents in the latest poll said it should be legal.
Richard Waters, 71, a retired elementary school teacher in Little Valley, N.Y., and a Republican, said in a follow-up interview to the latest poll that he strongly supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. "I think any kind of amendment that says 'You shall not' will help," Waters told the Times. "I just don't think it's right for two men to go parading around in public or for two women to be doing the things they do. It's against God's law. That's right in the Bible that it's wrong." Theresa Eaton, 49, a financial analyst in Corona, Calif., and also a Republican, agreed. "I still believe that marriage should be between a man and woman," she said. "If I knew that we had a neighbor who was gay, I would not let my nieces and nephews go close by there. I don't want to accept their lifestyle. It can be acquired and it is not right."
Gay rights groups expressed dismay at the poll results but said they doubt that a constitutional amendment would pass the initial stage through Congress. "The Republican House leadership is having its own internal fight to determine what to do," Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, told the Times. "There is no consensus among conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans. Many of them say they don't support marriage for same-sex couples, but to amend the Constitution for social issues is a very bad idea." The last time the Constitution was amended for social purposes was in 1920, when alcohol was outlawed, but that prohibition was repealed in 1933. Sanford Levinson, a constitutional expert at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, said it is extremely difficult to amend the Constitution. If the ban on gay marriage were to pass the House and Senate, he said, opponents could stop it by getting the support of one house of the legislature in just 13 states. Levinson said President Bush's support is "a free pass" because
he probably knows how difficult it would be to get through Congress, let alone through 38 states. "The idea is for Bush to throw red meat to the Republican right, secure in the knowledge that this is not going to go anywhere," he said. "If it did go anywhere, it would tear the Republican Party apart."