News Analysis: AP’s New Marriage Poll Shows Country “Grappling” With Marriage Equality

Author: Chris Geidner
Publication: Metro Weekly
Publication Date: September 14th, 2011

Click here to read the full article at Metro Weekly. 

Today, the Associated Press released polling that showed that a majority of Americans support "the government giv[ing] legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex." The 53 percent support the poll found was not surprising, as several polls over the past year have reached similar results.

What did stick out was the AP-National Constitution Center poll's finding that 48 percent of respondents support "a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman" and only 43 percent oppose it.

In other words, 10 percent of the telephone survey's respondents -- about 100 of the 1,000 people interviewed -- support marriage equality but do not oppose a constitutional amendment that would prohibit that marriage equality.

More confusingly, roughly 10 people told the pollsters that they support recognition of same-sex couples' marriages and also support an amendment to the Constitution to ban such marriages.

Four percent -- about 40 people -- of the respondents who told pollsters that they support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages earlier had not told pollsters that they believe the government should not recognize same-sex marriages.

Why the confusing and seemingly contradictory responses?

One partial explanation is the vague wording. Despite being conducted nationally, the poll does not appear to be clear as to whether those questions are asking about state governments or the federal government.

But, regardless of the intent of the question or the way it was heard by the respondents, it is clear that Americans are unclear about the way they feel about marriages between same-sex couples.

As the Human Rights Campaign's Michael Cole-Schwartz tells Metro Weekly, "These results point out to me that emotion remains a significant factor informing people’s views on marriage equality and that positions on political issues are not always clear cut. It's not hard to find polls that show Americans think we spend too much money on a given government program but then also say they don't want to see funding for that program cut." 

But, Freedom to Marry president Evan Wolfson tells Metro Weekly that he looks more closely at the bottom line, writing, "I give far more weight to the finding that a solid majority supports the freedom to marry, given that this is now one in a series of reputable national polls over nearly a year confirming that majority and momentum."

Nonetheless, he acknowledges, "At the same time, Freedom to Marry knows that most people are not always or primarily focused on this question and are still on a journey of understanding."

Cole-Scwartz adds, "Americans are clearly grappling with the issue of marriage equality and that seems to include holding sometime contradictory points of view. What is clear however is that the trajectory of public sentiment over time is inexorably toward equality."

The 53 percent support for legal recognition of marriages between same-sex couples was a 1 percent increase over the 52 percent support when the AP asked the question in 2010, which was a 6 percent increase from the 46 percent support in 2009.

Moving beyond marriage recognition itself, 57 percent of the respondents said they believe that same-sex couples should receive "the same government benefits as married couples of the opposite sex." This means that 5 percent -- or about 50 people -- told the pollsters that they support equal benefits for same-sex couples but also support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

What does this poll tell advocates like Wolfson about the next steps forward?

He tells Metro Weekly, "We clearly need to continue the conversations about why marriage matters and the sharing of stories and personal asks that help real people solidify and strengthen their support for fairness and respect, when they are being buffeted by tough economic times, surly politics, and continuing anti-gay campaigns by the hard-core opposition."