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Poll: Utahns evenly split on same-sex marriage

Support for the repeal of Amendment 3

is strongest among younger, non-Mormon population.

First Published Jan 14 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Apr 08 2014 02:55 pm

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.

At a glance

New petition to Attorney General Sean Reyes

Supporters of same-sex marriage in Utah submitted a petition with more than 32,000 signatures Monday protesting the state’s efforts to fight a court ruling legalizing the unions.

The petition on change.org addressed to Attorney General Sean Reyes takes aim at the estimated $2 million cost of the legal battle to keep Amendment 3, the state’s ban on gay marriage. It asks Reyes not to use the money of taxpayers who oppose the ban.

“To continue with this decision to use taxpayer money for something that is a religious matter is a violation of the separation of church and state,” the petition reads.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby struck down Amendment 3 on Dec. 20, allowing about 1,300 same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on same-sex nuptials as the state appeals Shelby’s decision.

Two other similar petitions with a total of 58,000 signatures were delivered Friday by activists after a rally that attracted more than 1,000 people.

Monday’s petition was started by Sophia Hawes and wife Danilynn Tingey, both transgender women over 40 who see legal marriage “as vital to being able to adequately care for one another as they age,” according to a statement.

Lindsay Whitehurst

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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.

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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."

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