Public Opposes Gay Weddings at Military Facilities

But poll shows they don’t want to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pauses during a briefing at the Pentagon, Thursday, May 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)  
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
May 21, 2012, 5:05 p.m.

Ex­actly half of Amer­ic­ans sup­port the House-passed le­gis­la­tion to bar same-sex wed­dings at mil­it­ary fa­cil­it­ies, but only a small minor­ity would back fur­ther fed­er­al ac­tion to re­strict gay rights, ac­cord­ing to the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

By 50 per­cent to 40 per­cent, those sur­veyed en­dorsed the pro­hib­i­tion against gay wed­dings on mil­it­ary bases that the House ap­proved last Fri­day in the an­nu­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill. But only about one-fourth backed con­gres­sion­al ac­tion either to block gay mar­riage na­tion­wide or to re­store the ban on gays serving openly in the mil­it­ary, the sur­vey found.

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,004 adults by land­line and cell phone from May 17-20, 2012. It has a mar­gin of sampling er­ror of +/- 3.6 per­cent­age points.

The House ap­proved the pro­pos­al to ban gay wed­dings on mil­it­ary bases with­in the over­all de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion le­gis­la­tion, which drew sup­port from 222 Re­pub­lic­ans and 77 Demo­crats. Demo­crats are un­likely to al­low such a pro­pos­al to re­ceive a Sen­ate vote, but House Re­pub­lic­ans might force them to ad­dress the is­sue if and when the au­thor­iz­a­tion bill reaches con­fer­ence.

In the sur­vey, the ban on gay wed­ding pro­voked a sig­ni­fic­ant gen­er­a­tion gap: 60 per­cent of seni­ors sup­por­ted it, and 53 per­cent of those un­der 30 op­posed it. Nearly three-fourths of Re­pub­lic­ans backed the ban; a 53 per­cent ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats op­posed it, and in­de­pend­ents split al­most ex­actly in half. This ques­tion also opened a sharp class di­vide among whites: About three-fifths of non­col­lege white men and wo­men sup­por­ted it, but a ma­jor­ity of col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men op­posed it. Col­lege-edu­cated white men sup­por­ted the ban by a nar­row­er, 53 per­cent to 41 per­cent, ra­tio.

The poll found much less sup­port for re­con­sid­er­ing the 2010 de­cision by Pres­id­ent Obama and the Demo­crat­ic Con­gress to re­peal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that pre­ven­ted gays and les­bi­ans from serving openly in the mil­it­ary.

Just 24 per­cent of those polled said they wanted to re­store the pro­hib­i­tion against gays serving openly in the mil­it­ary; a re­sound­ing 69 per­cent said they en­dorsed the cur­rent policy of al­low­ing gays to openly serve. In no ma­jor demo­graph­ic group did a ma­jor­ity of those polled prefer to re­store the ban. Even among Re­pub­lic­ans, just 41 per­cent sup­por­ted do­ing so. In­deed, nearly two-thirds of both seni­ors and whites without a col­lege de­gree — two of the most so­cially con­ser­vat­ive con­stitu­en­cies in the elect­or­ate — said that gays should be al­lowed to con­tin­ue serving openly.

Sim­il­arly, only 24 per­cent of those sur­veyed agreed that Con­gress should “pass a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to ban same-sex mar­riage in every state re­gard­less of state law.” Many lead­ing Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing pre­sumptive GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney, sup­port such an amend­ment.

A slightly great­er num­ber, 27 per­cent, said they would sup­port a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to per­mit same-sex mar­riage in every state re­gard­less of state law. That’s a sur­pris­ingly sub­stan­tial level of in­terest, giv­en that no elec­ted of­fi­cial — and no prom­in­ent gay-rights lead­er — has ser­i­ously pro­posed such a step.

The largest group, 42 per­cent, said that Con­gress should “take no ac­tion and let each state de­cide wheth­er to per­mit or ban same-sex mar­riage.” That ap­proach would co­di­fy a status quo in which 13 Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing states have au­thor­ized gay mar­riages or civil uni­ons, and 29 mostly Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing states have ap­proved con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments bar­ring same-sex mar­riages.

Slightly less than one-third of seni­ors and non­col­lege whites, and only 37 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans, sup­por­ted a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to ban gay mar­riage every­where; plur­al­it­ies of each group would leave the de­cision to the states. On the flip side, a 41 per­cent plur­al­ity of Demo­crats backed a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to per­mit gay mar­riage every­where.

One con­cern for Demo­crats in the wake of Obama’s em­brace of gay mar­riage is that Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, and, to a some­what less­er ex­tent, His­pan­ics, have ex­pressed more res­ist­ance than whites to gay-rights causes in many polls. In this sur­vey, though, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and non­whites over­all (not enough His­pan­ics are sur­veyed to sep­ar­ate this group out) differed little from whites. For in­stance, a 42 per­cent plur­al­ity of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans (com­pared to 45 per­cent of whites) said that Con­gress should let states de­cide on gay mar­riage; vir­tu­ally identic­al ma­jor­it­ies of both groups backed bar­ring same-sex wed­dings from mil­it­ary fa­cil­it­ies and about sev­en in 10 from both groups sup­por­ted the cur­rent policy that al­lows gays to serve openly in the mil­it­ary. Oth­er non­whites leaned some­what more than Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans to­ward po­s­i­tions fa­vor­able to the gay com­munity.

One fi­nal meas­ure of­fers a dif­fer­ent per­spect­ive on these trends. Just 11 per­cent of those polled took the con­ser­vat­ive po­s­i­tion on all three is­sues meas­ured in the poll — mean­ing that they sup­por­ted ban­ning gay wed­dings on mil­it­ary bases, re­vers­ing the re­peal of don’t ask, don’t tell, and passing a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to bar gay mar­riage every­where. Twenty-two per­cent took the lib­er­al po­s­i­tion on all three is­sues.

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