Poll: 63 percent support relationship recognition

Posted on 18 Feb 2010 at 6:25pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Nearly two-thirds of Texans support either marriage or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples

For a complete breakdown of the marriage questions, click here.


MAKING PROGRESS | Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said a recent poll showing a majority of Texans favor some kind of legal recognition for same-sex couple is a step toward giving elected officials the political cover they need to support same-sex marriage or civil unions.

AUSTIN — Texans who attend church more than once a week are three times as likely to oppose relationship recognition for same-sex couples as those who don’t attend church at all.

And Texans who didn’t complete high school are twice as likely to oppose relationship recognition as those with four-year college degrees.

Meanwhile, those who identify as "strong Democrats" are seven times as likely to support marriage equality as those who identify as "strong Republicans."

And Latinos in Texas are more likely to support marriage equality than either whites or blacks.

These are among the findings of University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released this week.

Overall, the poll of 800 registered voters found that a solid majority of Texans, about 63 percent, support some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, either marriage or civil unions. Only 30 percent of poll respondents said they oppose both marriage and civil unions, while 7 percent said they "don’t know."

The poll, conducted the first week of February, has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT, which conducted the poll, said he was surprised last year when a previous TPP poll and a Texas Lyceum poll showed that 61 percent and 57 percent of Texans, respectively, support relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

"I’ve kind of stopped being surprised," Henson said this week. "These are remarkably stable numbers."

Henson noted that results from the three polls are essentially within one another’s margin of error.

"The more you get that result, the more you have to say that my baseline assumption — that this is a complete non-starter in Texas — seems wrong," Henson said, referring to relationship recognition. "This seems to be rapidly becoming not a question of what’s in public opinion. What’s in public opinion is becoming kind of a settled issue. Now the question is one of leadership and politics."

Henson said the poll results suggest that a small minority of voters who are adamantly opposed to relationship recognition are dictating public policy on the issue.

Forty-five percent of those who said they are "strong Republicans," and 56 percent of those who identify as "extremely conservative," oppose any form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, according to the poll.

However, 62 percent of those who "lean Republican" and 52 percent of "strong Republicans" support either marriage or civil unions.

"You can’t just point to the whole Republican Party and say, ‘That’s the problem,’ if you’re an advocate of gay marriage or civil unions," Henson said. "It’s a narrower band of people who are motivated, who are really engaged in the political process, that are sort of the bulwark against moving forward on this."

Chuck Smith, deputy director at Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, called the poll results "progress."

"It’s positive steps toward letting elected officials know that they’re really not going out on such a long limb to support relationship recognition measures," Smith said. "Over time, that is indeed going to give policymakers the cover, or the ability to believe that they’re not going to get thrown out of office if they do that."

In 2005, Texas voters approved — by a margin of 76 percent to 24 percent — a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and "any legal status identical or similar to marriage." But turnout in the election was just 17 percent, and Smith said he believes attitudes have changed in the last five years.

"There’s history and evidence from other places that the sky doesn’t fall and there’s not a negative impact on anybody else’s relationship," Smith said.

It would take a two-thirds majority in the state Legislature to put a repeal of the 2005 constitutional amendment on the ballot. As such, Smith it’s more likely that relationship recognition for same-sex couples in Texas will first come from the federal government or the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the recent poll results could be helpful in fighting for things like domestic partner benefits for state employees, or recognition of marriages

from other states, Smith suggested.

He pointed to a case out of Austin this week, in which Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott is challenging a divorce granted to a lesbian couple that was married in Massachusetts.

"What the poll is saying, it’s acknowledging the existence of relationships between gay and lesbian people," Smith said. "The majority of people don’t believe in ignoring the existence of those."

Other findings of the poll (complete results can be found at TexasPolitics.Laits.UTexas.edu):

• Residents of the Austin area showed the strongest support for same-sex marriage, at 35 percent, followed by Houston at 30 percent, Dallas at 29 percent and San Antonio at 28 percent. Residents of other parts of Texas supported marriage at a rate of only 25 percent.

• Fifty-five percent of those who didn’t complete high school opposed any form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, compared to 36 percent of high school graduates and 27 percent of four-year college graduates.

• More females (29 percent) than males (27 percent) said they support same-sex marriage, but more males (38 percent) than females (33 percent) support civil unions.

• People who are married (23 percent) are less likely to support same-sex marriage than those who are single (41 percent). People who are married also oppose any form of same-sex relationship recognition (31 percent) at a higher rate than those who are single (21 percent).

• People in the 18-29 age group showed the strongest support for same-sex marriage, at 38 percent, while people 60 and over were least likely to support same-sex marriage (20 percent).

• Those who identified as "Independent" were more likely to support some form of relationship recognition than any category of Democrats. Forty-nine percent of "strong Democrats" said they support same-sex marriage, while another 21 percent support civil unions and 24 percent oppose any form of relationship recognition. Among Independents, 48 percent said they support same-sex marriage, 30 percent said they support civil unions, and 29 percent oppose any form of relationship recognition.

• Thirty-seven percent of Latinos who responded to the poll said they support same-sex marriage, compared to 27 percent of whites and 20 percent of African-Americans. However, whites were least likely to oppose any form of relationship recognition at 28 percent, followed by Hispanics at 29 percent and African-Americans at 37 percent.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

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