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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 12, 2006

Voters don't care about gay marriage

Most put an amendment banning it dead last in a poll on the nations concerns

Washington, D.C.--A new poll shows the public is not much interested in amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. It will shape some of the discussion on the measure when the Senate takes it up in June.

The poll, conducted April 10 - 13 for the Human Rights Campaign, was taken to help develop a strategy to stop the amendment. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has promised a floor vote on the issue the week of June 5.

A constitutional amendment must be passed by two-thirds of both the Senate and House, then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

The proposed amendment reads: �Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.�

A vote on a similar measure was blocked by Democrats in 2004.

The current proposal, called the Marriage Protection Amendment by its supporters, is sponsored in the Senate by Wayne Allard of Colorado with 29 co-sponsors, including Ohio�s Mike DeWine.

It was the Senate�s first resolution of this session, introduced in January, 2005. The House version was introduced two months later by California�s Daniel Lungren. It has 20 cosponsors.

All legislators supporting the amendment are Republicans.

Civil union support is up

Jay Campbell of Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted the poll for HRC. He also oversees the firm�s work for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

In the survey of 802 randomly-dialed registered voters, passing the marriage amendment finished dead last in importance, behind affordable health care, Iraq, illegal immigration, ethics and lobbying laws, and passing a flag burning amendment.

Sixty-one percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents oppose the amendment, as do 20 percent of Republicans.

Campbell did a similar poll for HRC in May, 2004, while 11 states, including Ohio, had amendments on their ballots. The current poll did not measure support by individual states.

While the overall percentages supporting and opposing same-sex marriage remained comparable over the two years, support for civil unions increased significantly, and the public has grown weary of the issue.

A majority of voters favor the amendment by 53 percent if they believe it only bans gay marriage. However, if they believe it also bans civil unions, it is opposed by 53 percent.

Further, 49 percent believe states should make their own marriage laws, while only 33 percent said the federal constitution should be amended. Sixty-three percent said they have concerns about changing the Constitution over this issue.

Other areas where the current poll shows some shift toward marriage includes among political independents, Catholics, and senior citizens who oppose amending the Constitution by 62, 69, and 63 percent respectively.

Among Catholic voters specifically, 58 percent agree that the amendment is an example of the government reaching into private lives, as in the Terri Schiavo case, and 80 percent agree with the statement, �Marriage is about love and commitment. Regardless of how I personally feel about gay people getting married, I don�t think it�s my place to judge these people�s love for and commitment to each other.�

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed think Congress should be focused on other things, and HRC believes that is a strong message for LGBT-affirming senators to argue on behalf of its defeat.

HRC political director Samantha Smoot said the poll results will be shared with key senators in preparation for the showdown, which is believed to be pushed by Frist in order to take voters� minds off other pressing national issues, and energize the Republican base before November�s mid-term election.

More senators will support measure

In 2004, the cloture vote that would have advanced the amendment failed 50-48.

Smoot believes that the Senate picked up two amendment supporters in the 2004 election, bringing that total to 52, which is still not enough for the 67 needed to pass the measure.

In 2004, only Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy spoke in favor of same-sex marriage. The rest of the Democrats, Republican John McCain of Arizona, and independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont, argued that since no state was facing a court ruling demanding that they accept another state�s same-sex marriages, it was not the right time for a constitutional amendment.

That posture angered some LGBT activists who argued that it left senators with little choice other than to move toward an amendment as marriage spread.

Smoot said there would be a �wide range� of arguments opposing it this time.

Kennedy and Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, will oppose the amendment because they favor marriage equality, according to Smoot, while McCain will continue to argue that the correct conservative position is to leave the matter to the states.

�And in between is a range,� said Smoot, adding that amendment supporters will again claim that it is necessary because of �activist judges.�

�The stronger case is that this is the wrong time for Congress to be looking at this issue,� said Smoot.

Smoot believes that the amendment could be seen as a detriment to congress working on other, more pressing issues, including gasoline prices, Iraq and health care, further endangering vulnerable incumbent senators.

Asked why the poll showed no progress on the basic issue of marriage equality, Campbell disagreed with the question.

�The 2004 poll was taken weeks before Massachusetts began recognizing same-sex marriage,� said Campbell. �That people are not in hysterics over it despite what the religious right would want you to believe, is progress.�

Smoot said she expects the Democratic National Committee to partner with HRC and to put out a message opposing the amendment this time.

Smoot said HRC is not taking any vote for granted, and has begun placing full page ads in LGBT publications and liberal web blogs telling people what needs to be done to defeat the amendment.

HRC is also putting field staff in �key states� to organize efforts to persuade uncommitted senators, and promoting a postcard campaign at gay pride events. It is also launching a campaign to draw attention to the anti-gay rhetoric and hate speech that will come from amendment supporters.

HRC is asking that amendment opponents visit www.hrc.org/voteno.

Overall climate improving

Additionally, the poll showed the overall climate for LGBT issues is improving since 2004.

The percentage of those polled who think it is important �to protect traditional family values from the gay lifestyle� has dropped from 57 to 48 percent.

A similar result occurred when people were asked how important it was to deny gays and lesbians �special rights in our society.� Those who felt it was important dropped from 53 to 42 percent.

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