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Californians slimly reject gay marriage

Voters also would support an amendment to ban such unions. The generational gap in opinion is large.

May 23, 2008|Cathleen Decker | Times Staff Writer

By bare majorities, Californians reject the state Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriages and back a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at the November ballot that would outlaw such unions, a Los Angeles Times/KTLA Poll has found.

But the survey also suggested that the state is moving closer to accepting nontraditional marriages, which could create openings for supporters of same-sex marriage as the campaign unfolds.

More than half of Californians said gay relationships were not morally wrong, that they would not degrade heterosexual marriages and that all that mattered was that a relationship be loving and committed, regardless of gender.

Overall, the proportion of Californians who back either gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples has remained fairly constant over the years. But the generational schism is pronounced. Those under 45 were less likely to favor a constitutional amendment than their elders and were more supportive of the court's decision to overturn the state's current ban on gay marriage. They also disagreed more strongly than their elders with the notion that gay relationships threatened traditional marriage.

The results of the survey set up an intriguing question for the fall campaign: Will the younger, more live-and-let-live voters mobilized by likely Democratic nominee Barack Obama doom the gay marriage ban? Or will conservatives drawn to the polls by the amendment boost the odds for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain?

Either way, the poll suggests the outcome of the proposed amendment is far from certain. Overall, it was leading 54% to 35% among registered voters. But because ballot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign, strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level.

"Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure," said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus.

The politically volatile issue leaped into the forefront last week after the court made its judgment in a case that stemmed from San Francisco's unsuccessful effort in 2004 to allow gay marriage in the city. The court's decision, on a 4-3 vote by judges largely appointed by Republican governors, came eight years after Californians overwhelmingly banned gay marriage through a ballot measure, Proposition 22.

The court's verdict threw the issue forward until November, when Californians are expected to be asked to amend the state Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. An affirmative vote on the amendment would reinstate the ban and lead to more litigation over the issue.

Before the court took action, opponents of same-sex marriage already had submitted more than 1 million signatures to the secretary of state's office to put the matter on the November ballot. Secretary of State Debra Bowen has said she will determine its fate by mid-June, but the backers are believed to have collected enough signatures to qualify.


Asking for a delay

Thursday, supporters of the proposed amendment asked the court to place its decision on hold until after the election. Failure to do so "risks legal havoc and uncertainty," lawyers for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund argued, noting that same-sex marriages entered into between now and November would be under a legal cloud if voters approved the ban. Court experts, however, say it is unlikely the justices would agree to such a lengthy delay in implementing their ruling.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has vetoed two bills sanctioning gay marriage, has said that he respects the court's decision and that he will not support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Californians were split on his stance, with 45% agreeing and 46% disagreeing.

The governor, who in his nearly five years in office has often butted heads with his GOP colleagues, was once again on the opposite side of most in his party: Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans disagreed with his views on the court decision and the amendment.

Becky Espinoza of Kerman, an agricultural town west of Fresno, said that if the amendment made the ballot, she would vote for it. But she acknowledged some ambivalence about the matter coming before voters at all.

"I just don't believe a man and a man should be married," said the 57-year-old Republican. "How can I put this -- it's just not right. I was brought up very old-fashioned."

Even within her own family, however, there are differences of opinion. A younger daughter, she said, feels "there's nothing wrong with that."

"To kids nowadays, it's like 'Oh well.' Maybe it is 'Oh well.' They see it. We didn't see it. It was one of those in-the-closet things."

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