Wednesday, June 4, 2008

63 percent say gay marriage is a choice

63 percent say gay marriage is a choice

Jun. 3, 2008 04:46 PM
USA Today
Six in ten Americans say the government should not regulate whether gays and lesbians can wed the persons they choose, a new survey finds.

As same-sex couples start lining up to get marriage licenses in California on June 17, the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found 63 percent of adults say same-sex marriage is "strictly a private decision" between two people.

That the government has the right "to prohibit or allow" such marriages was stated by 33 percent, and 4 percent had no opinion.

On Monday, the California secretary of state said an initiative to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union "between a man and a woman" will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. If it passes, it would overturn a May state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. After Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, 11 states voted on similar questions.

"Those initiatives did have an impact in election results," says Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va. "Turnout was 2.4 percent higher on average in those 11 states than the other 39 states."

But these poll findings "suggest caution" to conservative activists who think this will mobilize voters, he says. "People were warned, with lots of overheated rhetoric, about the consequences of gay marriage in Massachusetts. They didn't see it affect their own lives. Now, most people have let loose a collective yawn about the issue."

Poll findings:

A majority of respondents at every level of education and income say same-sex marriage is "strictly private." This was true:

• In every region: East (71 percent), West (64 percent), Midwest (63 percent) and South (56 percent).

• Among all age except "65 and older": 18 to 29 (79 percent), 30 to 49 (65 percent), 50 to 64 percent (62 percent) and 65 and older (44 percent).

• Among people who also say they have a favorable view of any of the three leading presidential candidates. For those holding favorable views for John McCain, 55 percent say marriage is a private decision; for Barack Obama, 75 percent say so; and for Hillary Clinton, 69 percent do. All three oppose same-sex marriage. Both Democrats both favor civil unions.

• Among people who say a relative, friend or co-worker personally has told them he or she was gay or lesbian (73 percent).

The strongest support for government regulation of same-sex marriage came from people who say they:

• Attend religious services weekly (56 percent).

• Are Republicans (56 percent).

• Are politically conservative (54 percent).

"After Massachusetts, the public has seen that the decision there has not affected people's lives as much as was feared," Rozell says.

Still, there are forms of marriage Americans overwhelmingly do want to see regulated: 66 percent say polygamy should not be a strictly private decision; 78 percent say the government should regulate marriages involving someone under 16.

Every state but one, New Hampshire, requires parental permission to marry someone under age 18, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Hampshire sets the age at 17. Mississippi sets it at 21.

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