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Polls show more Americans support equal marriage rights

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Wednesday Aug 25, 2010
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Two recent polls indicate support for marriage for same-sex couples continues to rise in every state; reflecting a growing trend towards acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships.

In a nationwide CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll earlier this month, 52 percent of respondents agreed when asked, "Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" It is the first national poll in which a majority of Americans voiced support for equal marriage rights.

A survey of all 50 states the New York Times recently published indicates Massachusetts has the highest percentage of respondents who support marriage for gays and lesbians at 62 percent. Sixty percent of Rhode Islanders, 59 percent of Vermont residents, 58 percent of New Yorkers, 57 percent of Connecticut respondents and 56 percent of Californians back nuptials for same-sex couples, according to the poll.

Even in Alaska, Montana and other more socially conservative states, the percentage of voters who favor marriage is nearly double from 1996.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, attributed part of this trend to the number of gays and lesbians who have come out, as well as the large number of married same-sex couples who have publicly shared their stories.

"The single most important reason is because we have begun engaging non-gay people in a conversation about why marriage matters," said Wolfson. "They are getting to see the places where marriage discrimination has ended and the sky has not fallen."

In Maryland, 51 percent of voters there support marriage.

"The tide is turning," said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland.

Maryland lawmakers plan to introduce a marriage bill in their next legislative session. Several legislators who were opposed to nuptials for gays and lesbians in the past have co-sponsored the measure.

In New York, where legislators defeated a measure last December that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry in the state, the latest poll indicates more and more New Yorkers support marriage.

"The more New Yorkers are told about our families, and this very vital right that we all need, the more their natural inclination for fairness kicks in," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

Levi remains hopeful voters will elect more pro-marriage politicians to Albany in November.

"In some cases we will be able to change the minds of some Senators who voted the wrong way last time," he noted. "As we can see with some Senators, they are immune to either reason or humanity, and those Senators need to be replaced."

Meanwhile, a separate poll of voters in Rhode Island showed increased support as EDGE previously reported.

Fifty-nine percent of Rhode Island voters support allowing gays and lesbians to marry in the Ocean State. This poll marks the first time a majority of Rhode Island voters have voiced support of marriage since advocates began polling on the issue in 2006. And it represents a 10 percent increase in support from the 2008 survey.

"As many of Rhode Island’s sister states have implemented marriage equality, the majority support we see in this poll is not all that surprising," said Dave Walker, vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. "Rhode Island voters are clearly ready for change."

Activists welcomed this news at an Aug. 18 press conference in Providence.

"This poll makes clear that there is no reason why we cannot enact a marriage equality law in Rhode Island now and treat all the families of our great state equally," said Kathy Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island and lead organization of the Rhode Island Marriage Coalition.

The Rhode Island poll also found 57 percent of Roman Catholics, 58 percent of Independents, 60 percent of self-identified moderates, 56 percent of women over the age of 50 and 49 percent of all voters over 50 support marriage.

"The Catholic number is particularly notable, as this is the most Catholic state in the country," noted Walker. "It is important that this issue is not about forcing churches to marry same-sex couples, nor is it about changing the Sacraments. In fact, in the survey, when we provide voters with reassurance that this is about civil marriages - that their First Amendment rights would be protected - support jumps to 66 percent overall."

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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