One year later, nation divided on gay marriage

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One year later, nation divided on gay marriage
Split seen by region, age, Globe poll finds

By Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff | May 15, 2005

Half of Americans polled say they don't want their states to recognize Massachusetts gay marriages, reflecting a continuing uneasiness or outright opposition to same-sex marriage that is especially strong in the South and in states that backed George W. Bush in 2004, according to a nationwide survey conducted for the Globe.

Nearly a year after same-sex couples were legally allowed to marry in Massachusetts, 50 percent of respondents said they opposed recognizing same-sex marriages from Massachusetts ''as legal in all 50 states," and 46 percent favored it. The respondents also said they disapproved of ''gay and lesbian couples being allowed to get married" by 50 percent to 37 percent.

Forty-six percent of respondents backed civil unions that would give gay couples ''some, but not all, of the legal rights of married couples" while 41 percent said they were opposed. Vermont and Connecticut have legalized civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, but Massachusetts remains the only state that has legalized same-sex marriage.

Overall, the poll suggested, attitudes toward gays and lesbians may be softening, and there are indications that support of gay marriage will grow as older people, who are more likely to oppose gay marriage, pass away.

Americans older than 65, Republicans, Protestants, regular churchgoers, and Southerners were most likely to oppose gay marriage. It was more likely to be favored by people younger than 35, Democrats, and people who do not attend worship services or who attend a few times a year. Poll respondents in states won by Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry in the 2004 presidential election were more likely to support gay marriage than those in states won by Bush.

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed predicted that all or some states will eventually join Massachusetts in legalizing gay marriage. Forty-one percent said sex between people of the same gender is ''always wrong," but that figure is down from 58 percent in a 1998 survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. And 79 percent of respondents said gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 57 percent in a 2000 Opinion Dynamics Poll. In the early 1990s, when President Clinton first raised the issue, support for gays in the military was even lower. Large majorities of Republicans, regular churchgoers, and people with negative attitudes toward gays think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

''I don't care what they do during the day. People have rights to do whatever they want, as long as they don't want to make a big deal about it," said Don Mihovk, 55, who was one of those polled and agreed to be interviewed further. Mihovk, who works for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and lives in Lincoln, added: ''They can serve their country, they can work in any job they want. But I still believe marriage is between a man and a woman."

The Globe poll was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which polled 760 randomly selected US adults between May 4 and May 9. The margin of error is 3.6 percent.

Despite the publicity surrounding the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts, and bans enacted in 11 states last fall, only 23 percent of those questioned identified the Bay State as the one state where same-sex marriage is legal. The poll found that 34 percent did not know which state had enacted gay marriage, and that 21 percent said they believed that no state had legalized it.

The most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted in March found stronger opposition to gay marriage than the Globe poll did, though the question asked in that survey was different. Participants in that poll were asked: ''Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?" Only 28 percent of respondents answered that gay marriages should be considered valid, and 68 percent said they should not be. Over the years, support for gay marriage in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll has varied, from 27 percent in March 1996 to 39 percent in June 2003.

In Massachusetts, support for gay marriage has grown since the state's first legal same-sex weddings were held May 17, 2004. A Globe survey conducted in March found 56 percent in favor, while in February 2004, 53 percent of Bay State residents said they were opposed. In the Globe's national poll, 62 percent of those who expressed opposition to gay marriage said they were against it for religious or moral reasons.

''I have nothing against civil unions or whatever people do in their private life. I just think it's too confusing for us to say we openly accept gay marriage. It's confusing to children, and it lowers our moral values because it's against the Bible," said Carolyn Wright, 30, a nursing student from Aurora, Ill. ''If they don't get married, I don't have a problem with it. It doesn't really affect me in any way. But I have a problem with us embracing it and making it a legal marriage, just like a heterosexual couple, because that means we're saying it's OK."

The Globe poll showed younger people are more likely to support gay marriage. Thirty-nine percent of respondents between 18 and 34 said they disapprove of gay marriage, compared with 46 percent of those between 35 and 49, 51 percent of those ages 50-64, and 64 percent of those older than 65.

Anna Ward, 80, of Tecumseh, Okla., said that gay marriage ''is not biblical."

''He created man and woman separately," she said. ''He didn't create two women or two men."

Katie Collins, 20, a University of Colorado student, said that she and many of her peers hold the opposite view because ''younger Americans, my generation, have been brought up with enough homosexuality around them that we're not afraid of it."

''I believe it's an issue of equality," said Collins, who lives in Colorado Springs. ''It's very much like the issue of blacks and civil rights in my parents' generation. Definitely older people right now don't necessarily view [gays and lesbians] as equals, but I certainly do."

Even though most respondents said they were against gay marriage, 47 percent said they opposed an amendment to the US Constitution banning it, compared with 45 percent who were in favor of an amendment. Those polled were split, 46-46 percent, on whether their state should enact laws prohibiting gay marriage.

In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gay marriage was legal, but 52 percent of respondents said legislatures should decide the issue, compared with 29 percent who said judges should settle it. Whatever their views on gay marriage, most respondents predicted that some or all states would end up legalizing it. Ninety-one percent of supporters said gay marriage would spread to other states, and 63 percent of opponents agreed.

Scott Greenberger can be reached at greenberger@globe.com.