Poll: Same–sex marriage gaining among Coloradans

(Centennial Fellow) Over 55% of Colorado adults support the concept of same sex marriage according to a new survey conducted by SmartVoice, Inc. The survey was conducted after Colorado governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado Senate Bill 11 into law on March 21, 2013 permitting same sex civil unions.

The views about same sex marriage within the adult population in Colorado have changed considerably in the recent past. Proponents of same sex marriage in Colorado, although emboldened with changing popular opinion and a new civil unions law, still face a state constitutional provision that prohibits same sex marriage in Colorado. Colorado Amendment 43 was a referendum approved by Colorado voters in 2006 that modified the Colorado constitution to define marriage as only a union between one man and one woman. It passed with 53% of the vote.

Civil unions are generally seen as a first step toward legalizing same sex marriage yet are different in scope in that, unlike same sex marriage, civil unions may not be recognized across state lines. Further, civil unions do not typically permit that one party may sponsor the other (if they are non–American) for immigration. In addition, civil unions are not presently recognized by the federal government, therefore the IRS does not recognize joint–tax filing status for civil union couples. The General Accounting Office in 1997 released a list of 1,049 benefits accorded to heterosexual marriages. These benefits range from federal benefits, such as survivor benefits through Social Security, sick leave to care for an ailing partner, tax breaks, veterans benefits and insurance breaks. Other benefits include family discounts, obtaining family insurance through an employer, hospital spouse visits, and making medical decisions when the partner is unable to do so. Civil unions provide many such benefits, but not all of them.

The SmartVoice survey also revealed that over 55% of respondents have family or close friends that are gay or lesbian. A recent study from the Williams Institute, a think–tank devoted to LGBT research at UCLA, estimated that 9 million Americans (over 3% percent of the US population) say they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Bisexuals constituted almost half of that group. Other surveys have put the number of gays and lesbians at less than 2% of the general population.

Interestingly, the SmartVoice survey indicated that 66% of Colorado adults want the citizenry to decide the fate of same sex marriage at the ballot box, while 17% want the courts to decide, and 16% want the state legislature to decide. When asked the question whether the state or federal government should determine approval of same sex marriage, Colorado respondents preferred the state over the federal government by a margin of 52% to 48%. Emotions may be running ahead of logic in that it is the federal government, e.g., IRS provisions, Social Security benefits, etc. where the economic and legal consequences have the greatest impact.

This is confirmed in the SmartVoice survey where 56% of survey respondents did not know that “approving same sex marriage may reduce tax revenues and increase tax outlays as a result.” Clearly, if same sex marriage became the law of the land, the burden on Social Security benefits alone would escalate due to the spousal benefits that are available at retirement age to heterosexual marriages.

The SmartVoice survey also indicated that women favor same sex marriage over men by 62% to 38%. In addition, 66% of respondents were currently married and over 66% had at least a college degree.

The survey was conducted by Smart Voice on April 2, 2013 using a statewide sample of 304 respondents who also subscribed to a landline phone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 38% of households are wireless only and 60% of adults between 25 and 30 years old are wireless only households. The SmartVoice survey indicated that 90% of survey respondents were over 30 years old, suggesting some under–representation of the under 30 demographic is possible due to the wireless only phenomenon. Further, other industry surveys indicate that the under 30 age cohort is more favorable to same sex marriage than the over 30 age cohort.

There are six U.S. states that allow civil unions between same sex couples (but not marriage) which are Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. There are nine U.S. states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington) that allow same sex marriage, in addition to the District of Columbia. Same sex marriages in these states, however, are not recognized by the federal government due to the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA. There are now 38 U.S. states that have banned same–sex marriage, either through legislation or constitutional amendments.

The US Supreme Court is expected to announce its important decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8 (the California law passed by voters in support of traditional marriage) in a few months. Pundits predict that the Supreme Court will not rule as sweepingly as it did with its landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973, thereby giving the country an opportunity to fully debate the same–sex marriage issue before judges decide it for them. It is clear that the nation is divided on this issue and many of the arguments have been emotional.

A growing number of people now support same sex marriage solely because they know a friend or family member who is gay, Sen. Rob Portman (R–OH) being a prominent recent example. This is also confirmed in the SmartVoice survey with 56% of Colorado adults supporting same sex marriage and 57% of Colorado adults who have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian. There are others who believe that same sex behavior should be recognized as a civil right through marriage. Despite the ardent support from young adults, women, and those that are emotionally concerned about gay/lesbian friends and family, the national (and Colorado) debate should include the long term consequences of a socioeconomic and moral policy that could overturn thousands of years of tradition throughout the world, and may impact children, taxpayers, and society in unintended ways before this issue can be settled.

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