Detroit Free Press
http://www.freep.com/article/20090607/NEWS06/906070461/Michigan+voters+shifting+views+on+gay+couples
 
Michigan Voters Shifting Views On Gay Couples
They're more supportive, a poll shows
BY DAWSON BELL FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
June 7, 2009

Michiganders appear to be increasingly supportive of gay-friendly policies, supporting a range of issues from inheritance rights to civil unions but continuing to balk at gay marriage, a new poll suggests.

In what Glengariff Group pollster Richard Czuba describes as a seismic shift in public opinion, even support for gay marriage has nearly doubled since a similar poll in 2004. That poll was conducted before voters approved an amendment to the Michigan Constitution defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

In October 2004, a Glengariff poll showed 24% of Michiganders supported marriage rights for same-sex partners, and only 42% supported legal recognition of civil unions. In the new poll, support for same sex marriage was 46.5% and for civil unions 63.7%. Forty-eight percent of state voters said they opposed adding marriage rights, the only one of nine gay rights issues not winning majority support.

The poll of 600 registered voters was done by phone May 27-29. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"Gay marriage is now where civil unions were five years ago," Czuba said.

Glengariff also measured support for: adoption rights (57.5%), same-sex partner benefits for government employees (65.5%), inheritance rights for gay and lesbian partners (70.9%) and recognition of same-sex marriages from other states (53.5%).

Czuba said a shift in opinion was evident in almost every demographic group, including self-identified Republicans. He attributed much of the change to the sharply higher number of poll respondents who said they know a gay or lesbian person in 2009 (80.2%) compared with in 2004 (56%).

Supporters of traditional marriage, while not directly challenging the results, urged caution in drawing conclusions.

"I think if a marriage vote were held today, we'd have the same result as 2004," said Brad Snavely, director of the Michigan Family Forum, which backed the ballot proposal that effectively banned gay marriage in the state.

Activists for legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships have long argued they're on the right side of history. Public support for the rights of same-sex couples, they insist, is only a matter of time.

A new poll of Michigan voter attitudes, conducted by the Glengariff Group of Chicago and obtained exclusively by the Free Press, suggests that time may be closer than it was when Michigan voters endorsed a one-man, one-woman marriage amendment to the state Constitution in 2004.

The new poll suggests support for same-sex marriage has nearly doubled since 2004 -- from 24% to 46.5% -- with a majority of voters supporting a range of other items from the gay rights agenda.

But it's probably not quite there yet, even the activists concede.

"People are beginning to understand that it is the right thing to do," Alicia Skillman, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, said Friday. "There has been a noticeable shift. We've done polling of our own and found that attitudes are changing."

Yet, a frontal assault on the marriage amendment in the near term is unlikely, Skillman said.

Paul Long, the longtime public policy director at the Michigan Catholic Conference, said he agrees. Public attitudes about gay rights have been in flux, and it would be a mistake to try to eliminate the amendment, he said.

Public opinion is always changing, Long said. It is entirely possible support for one-man, one-woman marriage is on the wane in Michigan and across the country.

"Polling has been all over the map on this issue for years," Long said. "But when people actually vote, they support traditional marriage."

Thirty states, including California, Florida and Arizona in 2008, have adopted protections for traditional marriage at the ballot box.

In Michigan, while most polls before the November 2004 election showed majority support for the marriage amendment, a Gallup poll in mid-September found 51% opposed. It was approved 58%-42%.

One thing that won't change, Long said, is the commitment of the Catholic Church, which paid most of the cost for a $1.2-million campaign to pass the amendment.

"The church will always stand for the traditional definition of marriage. The commitment ... is as strong today as ever," Long said.

But Glengariff pollster Richard Czuba said public opinion seems to be shifting swiftly and dramatically. Most striking, he said, was the jump in the number of people who said they personally knew a gay or lesbian person, which often correlates with support for legal rights. That number jumped from 56% in 2004 to 80% this year, Czuba said.

While that may not translate into a direct attack on the one-man, one-woman marriage amendment anytime soon, he said it should embolden supporters of other changes.

"It's clear that a majority" of Michiganders "feel there should be some legal protection for gay and lesbian relationships," he said.


Contact DAWSON BELL: 517-372-8661 or dbell@freepress.com

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