Poll: Support for NY Marriage Equality Still Climbing

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday June 3, 2011

Poll after poll has shown recently that support for marriage equality in the state of New York is climbing steadily, despite opposition from religious leaders opposed to legal parity for gay and lesbian families and efforts by the anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage.

A June 2 Quinnipac poll reflected a 2% uptick in support for marriage equality since an April 14 survey. The results show that support has climbed to 58% (from the earlier 56%), with opposition dwindling to 36% (from a higher level of 38% in the April poll), reported a blog at the New York Daily News website.

"Once again, we see a split along party lines," noted the blog posting. "Democrats support legalization 72-23%, independents back it 58-34% and GOP voters are opposed, 64-34%."

In terms of gender, the results were nearly identical, with 58% of men and 59% of women saying that same-sex couples should be afforded the same matrimonial rights as heterosexuals.

But the issue is not the burning, over-arching monolith that some social conservatives wish to paint it as being.

"New Yorkers support same-sex marriage, but their top priorities are the property tax cap and ethics reform," the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute's Maurice Carroll told the media.

The poll showed that 60% of respondents favored a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to limit property taxes. Even more support went toward rent regulation, with 62% saying they were in favor.

New York state senators have voted on the issue only once, in 2009. The bill was defeated, with no Republicans voting in favor and some Democrats who had expressed support before changing their minds and voting against the measure.

The state assembly has approved legislation to extend marriage equality to all New Yorkers on multiple occasions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality since before he won the office. Despite the setback three years ago, Cuomo has said that he intends to pursue the issue and hopes to see marriage equality become a reality in New York during his tenure, despite an even stronger Republican presence in the legislature.

However, there have been signs that some GOP state lawmakers are warming to the idea of extending marriage equality to all families in the state. One Republican lawmaker has even spoken in favor of such a measure, citing her own gay son.

But other lawmakers remain firm in their opposition. New York State Sen. (and Pentecostal pastor) Rubén Díaz, Sr., attended a rally against marriage equality last month in which he spoke against marriage parity, but then embraced his gay granddaughter, who was counter-demonstrating for the right to marry. The rally was put together by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-gay group that was instrumental in the passage of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that rescinded then-existing marriage rights for gay and lesbian families in California.

Anti-gay religious leaders have also vowed to fight any marriage equality measure, and NOM has threatened to fund the opponents of any Republican legislators who vote for a marriage equality measure.

GLBT equality group the Human Rights Campaign continues to produce videos in its "New Yorkers for Marriage Equality" series. In the videos, actors, politicians, athletes, and other public figures ask viewers to join them as supporters of equality before the law for gay and lesbian families.

The New York polls reflect a trend in national surveys that also show a growing acceptance of GLBT individuals and their families. Though the latest Gallup poll on the issue shows that Republican opposition to marriage equality has not budged in the last year, the last 12 months have seen other segments of society shift on the issue. Moreover, polls have long shown a generational break on the issue, with young voters being much more supportive early on than older voters--which suggests that as time passes, acceptance of family parity for gays and lesbians is likely to keep growing.

Equality advocates are hopeful that shifting attitudes nationwide might make a difference in New York, as well as in Minnesota, where the Republican-majority state government recently approved a ballot initiative to add an amendment to the state constitution that would bar access to marriage by gay and lesbian families.

Though voters in 31 other states have approved similar amendments, equality advocates remain hopeful that Minnesota voters might make history by decisively rejecting an anti-gay ballot initiative.

In addition to the Gallup poll (only one of a number of polls that reconfirm that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality), a poll of Minnesotans undertaken by local newspaper the Star Tribune also showed that gay and lesbian families had made progress: more than half--55%--did not support the constitutional amendment, noted a May 25 National Public Radio article.

"We're in a cultural shift on this," the HRC's Michael Cole-Schwartz told NPR. "The polls are indicative of a larger movement." As a result, politicians are now using gays as political footballs less often than used to be the case.

"Party leaders realize this doesn't play like it used to," Cole-Schwartz noted.

That in itself has contributed to a notable paradigm shift that sees gay conservatives on the ascent--and vocal about it, asserting that they, perhaps even more than heterosexual conservatives, have reason to pursue policies that would limit government's size, scope, and power to interfere with individual liberty.

Anti-gay groups are not ready to concede ground just yet, however. The National Organization for Marriage, which has poured millions of dollars into campaigns around the nation to prevent gay and lesbian families from gaining the right to marry--or, as in the case of California's Proposition 8 in 2008 and, a year later, a ballot initiative in Maine, to rescind marriage parity--insisted that the polls were meaningless.

"People doing polls want to get the results they're getting," NOM head Brian Brown told NPR. As if to underscore Brown's claim, an NOM-backed poll flatly contradicted the Star Tribune's survey, tallying up 57% opposition to marriage equality. Said Brown: "The only poll that counts is what happens in the ballot box, and we've never lost."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.