Poll: Support surges for gay marriage
Published: Saturday December 6, 2008

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Majority now oppose federal ban


"When voters in California, Florida and Arizona approved measures banning same-sex marriage last month [the graphic at right does not include these latest votes], opponents lamented that the country appeared to be turning increasingly intolerant toward gay and lesbian rights. But the latest NEWSWEEK Poll finds growing public support for gay marriage and civil unions -- and strong backing for the granting of certain rights associated with marriage, to same-sex couples. (Click here to see the full poll.)

"Americans continue to find civil unions for gays and lesbians more palatable than full-fledged marriage. Fifty-five percent of respondents favored legally sanctioned unions or partnerships, while only 39 percent supported marriage rights. Both figures are notably higher than in 2004, when 40 percent backed the former and 33 percent approved of the latter. When it comes to according legal rights in specific areas to gays, the public is even more supportive. Seventy-four percent back inheritance rights for gay domestic partners (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 73 percent approve of extending health insurance and other employee benefits to them (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 67 percent favor granting them Social Security benefits (compared to 55 percent in 2004) and 86 percent support hospital visitation rights (a question that wasn't asked four years ago). In other areas, too, respondents appeared increasingly tolerant. Fifty-three percent favor gay adoption rights (8 points more than in 2004), and 66 percent believe gays should be able to serve openly in the military (6 points more than in 2004).

"Despite the recently approved state measures, public opinion nationally has shifted against a federal ban on same-sex marriage. In 2004, people were evenly divided on the question, with 47 percent favoring a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and 45 percent opposing one. In the latest poll, however, 52 percent oppose a ban and only 43 percent favor one. When respondents were asked about state measures, the numbers were closer: 45 percent said they'd vote in favor of an amendment outlawing gay marriage in their states, while 49 percent said they'd oppose such a measure.

"A number of factors seem to play a role in swaying people one way or the other. For instance, 62 percent of Americans say religious beliefs play an important role in shaping their views on gay marriage. According to the survey, two-thirds of those who see marriage as primarily a legal matter support gay marriage. On the other hand, two-thirds of those who see it as mostly a religious matter (or equal parts religious and legal) oppose gay marriage. Moreover, the poll found significant differences across generational lines. Essentially, the younger you are, the more likely you are to support same-sex marriage. About half of those ages 18 to 34 back marriage rights, compared to roughly four in 10 among those ages 35 to 64 and only about two in 10 among those 65 and older. The survey also detected a gender gap, with women more likely to support gay marriage than men, 44 percent to 34 percent. Differences by race appear less noteworthy: 40 percent of whites approve of gay marriage, compared to 37 percent of non-whites."