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News - July 1996

Poll Finds No Consensus on Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON -- There is no clear consensus among Americans on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, according to a poll conducted for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay and lesbian political organization. The survey also found Americans overwhelmingly believe this issue should not be a legislative priority, and that it will not be a litmus test for candidates.

According to the national poll of 1,022 Americans conducted between May 31 and June 2 by The Mellman Group, 37 percent of Americans support the bill "defining marriage as only between men and women for the purposes of federal law," while 29 percent said they oppose it.

This lack of agreement was confirmed in another line of questioning. A total of 39 percent of those polled said they think this legislation is unnecessary, while 31 percent termed it necessary; a full 30 percent said they were not sure of the importance of such a law.

"There is no consensus among Americans on the Defense of Marriage Act," said David M. Smith, communications director of the Human Rights Campaign. "These results indicate the Republican strategy of using the gay marriage issue as a political strategy is failing to gain traction with voters and has the potential to backfire."

While opinion on this bill remains muddled, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed agreed there are more pressing issues facing Congress than attempting to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Only 13 percent said that "passing this law should be an important priority." A total of 73 percent said "there are lots of other issues" that are much more important than creating a federal statute to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Further, this legislation is more likely to be viewed as apolitical ploy than as an attempt to strengthen the American family. More Americans (32 percent) accept the view that "this law is just an attempt to play politics, scapegoat gays and embarrass supporters of civil rights for gays, and is not really very important" than adhere to the view that "gay marriage is a real threat to the American family and it is important to pass the law" (27 percent). Only 27 percent said they believe gay marriage is a threat to the family; 41 percent would not even venture a guess.

This issue will not be a litmus test for candidates in November, according to the poll. Only 17 percent said a candidate's vote against the Defense of marriage Act would be a "very convincing" reason to vote against that person. By contrast, 54 percent said a candidate's vote to cut Medicare would be a "very convincing" reason to vote against that individual.

Another indication of the low political resonance of this issue: Only 10 percent of those polled said they would be very likely to vote against a candidate with whom they otherwise agreed if he or she opposed this law. Six percent said they would be very likely to oppose a candidate with whom they otherwise agreed if that candidate supported the Defense of Marriage Act.

The bill was introduced last month in both the House and the Senate. One of its primary co-sponsors is Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the certain Republican nominee for president.

"It is sad that after a distinguished 35-year career in Congress, Senator Bob Dole will end his Senate career with a bill that is nothing more than cheap election-year gay-bashing," Smith said.

"Doesn't Congress have anything better to do?"

The poll results are based on a national survey of 1,022 adults interviewed by telephone between May 31 and June 2. The study is based on a random-digit dialing probability sample of all telephone households in the continental United States, which ensures that every telephone household had an equal chance of participating in the survey. The margin of error for the sample as a whole is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error for subgroups varies and may be larger.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.


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