A poll conducted February 7-9, 2012, during the height of media coverage of gay marriage in Washington State, revealed a slight majority support the idea of gay marriage equality. However support evaporates when probed below the surface:
> When the emphasis is upon gay couples exclusively and theoretically, a thin majority want them to have the same rights as marriage.
> However, when the emphasis shifts to the actual equality gay couples already possess, a significant majority of Washington does not want marriage redefined.
> When you add the impact upon children under a gay marriage law, a very significant majority shift away from support of gay marriage.
The proprietary poll was conducted at the request of Cedar Park Church by The Elway Poll. The poll of 405 adults has a margin of error of five percent and was conducted at the same time as the regular monthly poll conducted by The Elway Poll. It had all the standard protocols regarding region, gender, age, voting history, party identification, education level and income level. The poll was done after the final passage in the both Houses of the Washington State Legislature and a few days before the Governor signed it.
The baseline question was:
"Should gay and lesbian couples have the same legal right to marry as straight couples?"
Fifty-one percent said yes, compared to forty-five percent saying no. Only five percent said they had no opinion. This level of support for gay marriage is actually higher than other recent polls, particularly higher than the Washington Poll conducted in October 2011. That October poll found forty-three percent in support of gay marriage when asked the same question.
Note: The baseline question is the one used by most pollsters and provides the best comparison to those other polls. It was also the simplest possible question. It was asked in the least emotional way. It did not ask about "homosexuals" but used a very neutral term of gay and lesbian couples.
The second question, asked of the same people, was about equality of rights and benefits set in the actual Washington State context of marriage:
"In 2009, the 'everything but marriage' law passed granting gay and lesbian couples all the same legal rights as marriage in Washington State. Since gay and lesbian couples in Washington already have legal equality, and adding marriage would not add any new legal rights for gay couples, would you favor or oppose preserving marriage as a unique description of the relationship between a man and a woman?"
Those who favored preserving marriage as a unique relationship rose to an astounding fifty-eight percent. Those who did not want to preserve marriage fell to only thirty-five percent. Washingtonians wanted gay couples to have rights which they reflected in their expressed support for gay marriage. But thinking about the fact that gay couples already have "everything but marriage" changed their opinion considerably.
The surveyed group went from fifty-one percent support to only thirty-five percent. Apparently most can accept the argument that people might have a civil right to legal equality but not a civil right for that equality to be called marriage.
There are significant implications to these numbers.
First, a sense of equality is the driver behind support for gay marriage. What many Washingtonians don't seem to know is that legal equality has been granted! They seem to have forgotten what they voted for in "everything but marriage." When they are reminded, support drops from half to a third.
Second, it is now apparent why gay marriage supporters are trying to confuse the voters by bringing up old arguments. They want voters to think gay couples won't get equal treatment when they go to the hospital because some doctor won't understand the equal rights granted domestic partnerships. These are the old arguments from previous campaigns which really do not apply to the present referendum.
They want voters to forget "everything but marriage" already granted every legal right this state can grant. All that remains is to change the definition of marriage itself. But that adds nothing to equality. No greater amount of equality is granted. If you are equal you are equal. You can't be more equal just because marriage is redefined. The moment Washington voters think about the fact that equality has already been granted, support for gay marriage plummets. Gay marriage advocates will shout "we want equality" because they hope people will forget they already have it.
If gay marriage advocates are asked what additional rights or benefits can the state grant, they will not be able to offer any actual change. They might try to confuse the issue by talking about federal rights, but they will have to admit that changing the definition of marriage in Washington State will contribute nothing to that cause.
When the gay marriage issue is correctly framed against the background of present equality, only seven percent didn't know which side to take. Even if all seven percent of the "didn't know" folks decided for gay marriage, the combined total would only rise to forty-two percent.
The question of equality asked people to think about the present state of equality. When they thought about the present state of equality they were sufficiently satisfied with the current state of affairs that they overwhelmingly did not want to change the definition of marriage.
The third question asked about the future.
How would using the law to change the definition of marriage impact what public schools would have to teach on the subject of homosexuality and marriage? Family education would have to do away with husband and wife and end up with only spouses. Mommy and Daddy disappear in favor of parent A and parent B. In the interest of equality, one type of family structure could not be preferred over another.
Here is the question that was asked about the future:
"If Washington State redefines marriage by law to include gay and lesbian couples, it would likely affect what is taught to children in public schools about homosexuality and the nature of marriage. If legalizing gay marriage would require teaching about homosexuality to children, would you favor or oppose the legalization of gay marriage in Washington State?"
When people think about the future implications of gay marriage, opposition to redefining marriage is two to one.
Only thirty percent still want gay marriage when they think about the future implications. Fully sixty percent want to leave marriage as it is. In today's fragmented political environment this is an astounding majority.
The sequence of the three questions and the responses reveal something about voters:
- When they think about gay marriage theoretically and casually, they can support it by a slight margin.
- When they think about the actual equality situation in Washington State today, support drops to only thirty-five percent.
- When they think about the future implications of gay marriage, support all but disappears. The less you know about the present situation or the future the more you like gay marriage. The more you know, and the more you think, the less attractive gay marriage appears.
For those of us who do not want to redefine marriage, the implications of this poll are very clear.
We need to make every effort to inform Washington voters of the actual state of equality. Then we need to ask them to think about the future. Once people know the facts and understand the consequences of gay marriage, it is easy to understand why there is opposition to redefining marriage.