TIMES / KTLA POLL
Californians narrowly reject gay marriage, poll finds
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 23, 2008
By bare majorities, Californians reject the state Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriages and back a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at the November ballot that would outlaw such unions, a Los Angeles Times/KTLA Poll has found.
But the survey also suggested that the state is moving closer to accepting nontraditional marriages, which could create openings for supporters of same-sex marriage as the campaign unfolds.
More than half of Californians said gay relationships were not morally wrong, that they would not degrade heterosexual marriages and that all that mattered was that a relationship be loving and committed, regardless of gender.
Overall, the proportion of Californians who back either gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples has remained fairly constant over the years. But the generational schism is pronounced. Those under 45 were less likely to favor a constitutional amendment than their elders and were more supportive of the court's decision to overturn the state's current ban on gay marriage. They also disagreed more strongly than their elders with the notion that gay relationships threatened traditional marriage.
The results of the survey set up an intriguing question for the fall campaign: Will the younger, more live-and-let-live voters mobilized by likely Democratic nominee Barack Obama doom the gay marriage ban? Or will conservatives drawn to the polls by the amendment boost the odds for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain?
Either way, the poll suggests the outcome of the proposed amendment is far from certain. Overall, it was leading 54% to 35% among registered voters. But because ballot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign, strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level.
"Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure," said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus.
The politically volatile issue leaped into the forefront last week after the court made its judgment in a case that stemmed from San Francisco's unsuccessful effort in 2004 to allow gay marriage in the city. The court's decision, on a 4-3 vote by judges largely appointed by Republican governors, came eight years after Californians overwhelmingly banned gay marriage through a ballot measure, Proposition 22.
The court's verdict threw the issue forward until November, when Californians are expected to be asked to amend the state Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. An affirmative vote on the amendment would reinstate the ban and lead to more litigation over the issue.
Before the court took action, opponents of same-sex marriage already had submitted more than 1 million signatures to the secretary of state's office to put the matter on the November ballot. Secretary of State Debra Bowen has said she will determine its fate by mid-June, but the backers are believed to have collected enough signatures to qualify.
Asking for a delay
Thursday, supporters of the proposed amendment asked the court to place its decision on hold until after the election. Failure to do so "risks legal havoc and uncertainty," lawyers for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund argued, noting that same-sex marriages entered into between now and November would be under a legal cloud if voters approved the ban. Court experts, however, say it is unlikely the justices would agree to such a lengthy delay in implementing their ruling.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has vetoed two bills sanctioning gay marriage, has said that he respects the court's decision and that he will not support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Californians were split on his stance, with 45% agreeing and 46% disagreeing.
The governor, who in his nearly five years in office has often butted heads with his GOP colleagues, was once again on the opposite side of most in his party: Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans disagreed with his views on the court decision and the amendment.
Becky Espinoza of Kerman, an agricultural town west of Fresno, said that if the amendment made the ballot, she would vote for it. But she acknowledged some ambivalence about the matter coming before voters at all.
"I just don't believe a man and a man should be married," said the 57-year-old Republican. "How can I put this -- it's just not right. I was brought up very old-fashioned."
Even within her own family, however, there are differences of opinion. A younger daughter, she said, feels "there's nothing wrong with that."
"To kids nowadays, it's like 'Oh well.' Maybe it is 'Oh well.' They see it. We didn't see it. It was one of those in-the-closet things."
On the opposite side is Lena Neal of Perris, who said she supported the court's decision and would vote against an amendment. Neal, a Democrat, based her views on the experiences of an elderly family member, who she said was part of a decades-long same-sex partnership. When one of them entered the hospital, she said, the other was not allowed to visit -- that benefit was restricted to family members.
"It's their right," she said of gay marriage. "They're humans."
Indeed, the poll found that views on gay marriage were greatly influenced by personal connections. Of those who said they knew a friend, a family member or a co-worker who was gay, nearly half approved of the court's ruling -- more than twice the proportion among those who said they were not acquainted with a gay person.
The divide was as stark when it came to the proposed constitutional amendment: 70% of voters who said they did not know a gay person would vote for it, a position taken by just 49% of voters who said they knew a gay person.
The poll, under Pinkus' direction, interviewed 834 Californians, including 705 registered voters, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The margin of sampling error is 3 percentage points in either direction overall and 4 points for registered voters. Margins were larger for demographic subgroups.
The poll found the state polarized when it came to gay marriage. In most surveys, majority views are somewhat ambivalent -- but on this issue they were sharply drawn. More than 4 in 10 Californians said they strongly disapproved of the court's decision, while almost 3 in 10 strongly approved. Smaller groups described their views as lukewarm.
Generally, the poll found consistency between views on the court decision and the proposed amendment. Overall, Californians opposed the court's view by a 52%-41% gap. The strongest opposition came from Republicans and self-described conservatives. Married respondents, those without college degrees, senior citizens, white evangelical Christians and those in suburban Southern California were also strongly opposed.
Those same groups were also among the strongest backers of the proposed amendment.
Most supportive of the court decision were liberals -- more than 7 in 10 of whom favored the ruling -- Democratic men and Democratic women, whites with college degrees and Bay Area residents.
Majority support -- if barely -- came from the two political groups whose backing generally spells success in California: The state's largest party, Democrats, backed it by a 55%-39% margin, and the fastest-growing political group, independents, supported it 51% to 40%.
Yet support for the ruling did not necessarily lead to opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment, and vice versa. Democrats and independents narrowly backed the amendment despite their support for the court action. Democratic men favored the ruling but were split on the amendment. Democratic women, meanwhile, approved of both the court decision and the amendment.
Effect on the election?
The interaction between the amendment and the presidential election is difficult to divine six months from election day. Among the reasons is that the court put itself at odds with the candidates -- neither Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Obama of Illinois, nor Republican McCain, a senator from Arizona, has backed gay marriage. All have sided instead with civil unions that would ensure benefits for same-sex partners.
For the candidates, the confluence of the gay marriage issue and the presidential election represents risk. For the Democratic nominee, the party's traditional allegiance with the gay community could lead to pressure on the candidate to embrace gay marriage -- perhaps alienating more moderate voters here and elsewhere.
McCain, meanwhile, will be pinched between the party's religious base, which is strongly in favor of the amendment, and the independent voters who generally recoil from social issue battles but whom McCain needs in order to win.
The poll suggested that the candidates may have a little leeway: Only 1 in 4 registered voters said they would vote only for a candidate who agreed with their own position on marriage. Almost 6 in 10 said they could vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed -- suggesting that the issue was far from the top of most voters' agendas.
Responding to a separate question, only 10% of registered voters said that gay marriage was the most important issue facing the state, although more than 5 in 10 voters characterized it as important, just not the most important. Another third of voters said it was not important at all.
Among those who felt it was the most important, more than 6 in 10 were conservatives or those who consider themselves part of the Republican religious base. They were overwhelmingly voting for McCain, the poll found.
But those who felt it was either not important, or not the most important issue facing California, were siding with a Democratic candidate over McCain.