Poll: Utahns evenly split on same-sex marriage
By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jan 14 2014 01:01AM
A new poll for The Salt Lake Tribune shows that Utahns’ views on same-sex couples’ relationships have dramatically shifted in the decade since voters amended the state’s constitution to prohibit them from receiving any legal recognition.
Residents are now evenly split on whether same-sex couples in Utah should be allowed to get state-issued marriage licences — 48 percent for and 48 percent against — and nearly three-fourths (72 percent) said same-sex couples should be allowed to form civil unions or domestic partnerships in lieu of marriage.
On one side: Paul, who lives at Sundance in Utah County and participated in the survey.
"I just don’t have any religious basis for why marriage should be between a man and a woman, and, personally, I don’t see that there is a meaningful difference between the rights of heterosexual couples as opposed to homosexual couples," the 24-year-old said in an interview. "I’ve never really understood the idea that two people should not be able to be married if they want to be."
And on the other: LaNae, 50, of Orem, who also took the survey.
"I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," LaNae said. "That is what marriage means — a man, a woman and God. I just don’t see it as anything else. If the gay community is wanting their relationship to be legally recognized, they can do that without having a marriage license."
The results reflect a remarkable turn since 66 percent of Utahns who participated in the 2004 general election approved Amendment 3, which limited civil marriage to a man and a woman and barred any state recognition of other relationships such as civil unions or domestic partnerships.
The latest poll follows landmark decisions this year on marriage rights of same-sex couples by a federal judge in Utah as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.
Support for same-sex marriage was strongest among non-Mormons, people between ages 18 and 34 and those who described themselves as Democrats. Slightly more than a third of respondents (36 percent) said their views on same-sex marriage have shifted over time, something that was equally true of Mormons and non-Mormons. Overwhelmingly, people in both of those demographic categories said their views had become more accepting.
But perhaps in one surprise, the broad support for civil unions or domestic partnerships included 65 percent of respondents who said they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sixty-nine-year-old Mike, of American Fork, said he opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples but over time has come to believe civil unions should be an option. The Tribune agreed to identify survey respondents, who were willing to be interviewed about their answers, by first names or a nickname only.
"Years ago, I would have thought that homosexuality was an individual choice," said Mike, who is Mormon and came to his views during discussions through the years with friends who are gay. "I’ve come to conclude more and more that it’s not a choice, but something that is inborn and a lifelong attraction rather than something someone chooses. If people choose to live in a same-sex relationship, they should enjoy all the legal benefits that occur with a marriage, without calling it a marriage and still using that term for man-woman relationships."
SurveyUSA conducted the recorded telephone survey of 600 randomly selected Utahns from Jan. 10 through Jan. 13 and asked nine questions related to the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court put Shelby’s decision on hold Jan. 6 while the state challenges it before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The survey used both landline and cellphone telephone numbers and involved a mix of Utahns from across the state. Those reached by cellphone were able to fill out a survey form. Depending on the question, the margins of error ranged from 3.7 percent to 5.3 percent.
Poll respondent SpydrMyk, who lives 37 miles north of Moab in Thompson Springs, said when he joined the military in 1978 he was asked if he held any prejudices. He answered yes and then explained he was biased against "liars, thieves and [gay expletive]."
But as the now 51-year-old traveled the world with the military, his view began to shift as he got to know people who were gay. Closer to home, he learned an immediate family member had had a spouse who was bisexual and that an in-law is a lesbian.
"There are gay people everywhere," he said. "Here in Utah, it is not really accepted. And worse than not being accepted, it’s not being talked about in families. When you add people like me who have people within the family who are gay [and] who are supporting the gay people, [your views have] no choice but to evolve."
A slim majority of respondents — 52 percent — said they back the state’s decision to appeal Shelby’s ruling, with 40 percent opposed and 8 percent unsure. Support for the state’s appeal was strongest among Mormons, men, and people who identified themselves as either Republicans or independents.
"The word of the people should override what they think the country should do," said Glen, 53, of West Jordan, who is not Mormon. "We have our own constitution, and it’s not violating anyone’s constitutional rights as far as the state for us to have people decide. As long as the people’s voice is heard, that should be the ultimate stand."
Dot, 43, from Draper, has seen her opinion evolve over time and opposes spending state money on what she sees as "an exercise in futility." She grew up in a family that was religiously and politically conservative, and it once made her "uncomfortable thinking about same-gender marriage" since she associated marriage with religion. Today, she believes drawing a distinction between marriage and civil unions is irrelevant and supports access to both for same-sex couples.
"This is a historical moment," she said. "They can fight it, they may even stop it temporarily, but in the long term, this is the direction of it."
Nearly 70 percent said they favor amending the Utah Constitution, as one lawmaker has proposed, so church and clergy are not forced to perform same-sex marriages against their religious beliefs. That support cut across nearly all demographic groups — Mormon and non-Mormon, men and women, younger and older — with only Democrats failing to muster a majority for such a change.
Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, is sponsoring a bill and joint resolution to amend the state’s constitution to exempt religious leaders and organizations from being required to participate in gay marriages.
Latter-day Saints recently pushed such a proposal in Hawaii as lawmakers there voted to legalize same-sex marriage. In a statement released last week, the LDS Church said it "insists" on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to advocate for religiously held views on marriage and noted that lay leaders may not perform same-sex marriages or allow them to occur on church property.
The Tribune poll is not the first to note a shift in attitude during the past decade. A public opinion survey by Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy in February 2012 found 29 percent of Utahns opposed all legal recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships, down from 54 percent in 2004 when it first asked the question.
In that 2012 survey, 28 percent expressed support for marriage rights for same-sex couples, while 43 percent favored allowing same-sex couples in Utah to form civil unions.
Wesley, 34, a St. George poll respondent, said he opposes same-sex marriage but supports civil unions as a "really good solution to the whole problem."
If the 10th Circuit and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court uphold Shelby’s decision, then civil marriage could be scrapped altogether in favor of nondiscriminatory unions, he said.
"It could be really great to have Utah say we won’t give anybody a marriage," said Wesley. "Marriages could be a private thing. What we do instead is we have domestic partnerships."
Wesley, a former Mormon who now embraces a "heathen" worldview, said his attitude toward homosexuality has become less accepting over time.
"I think I valued freedom more and traditional values less as a Christian," he said. "Now I think that traditional values are what hold societies together. And more often, they need to be upheld against even individual freedom."
As with marriage rights, Utahns are evenly divided about whether married same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children — with 45 percent supporting the idea, 45 percent opposing it and 10 percent unsure. Sixty-four percent of respondents are against adoption by unmarried same-sex couples in Utah.
Utah law currently bars unmarried, cohabitating couples — both opposite-sex and same-sex — from adopting children. However, many same-sex couples have adopted children out-of-state; others have children conceived through artificial reproductive technology or from previous, heterosexual relationships. The ability to have a partner recognized as a legal parent is a key issue in the marriage rights’ debate for many of those couples.