By Paul Ames – Associated Press

Northern EU nations show most support; lowest numbers come from southern, eastern nations

Juris Lavrikovs

BRUSSELS, Belgium European Union citizens are sharply divided over their attitude towards gay marriage, according to a poll released Monday.

Eighty-two percent of Dutch citizens back gay marriage compared to just 11 percent in Romania, the poll said.

Overall, 44 percent of citizens in the 25-nation EU believe gay marriage should be allowed throughout the bloc, with support highest in the north and lowest among southern and eastern members, according to the poll by Eurobarometer.

Seventy-one percent of Swedes, 69 percent of Danes and 62 percent of Belgians back the idea. But only 11 percent of Romanians, 12 percent of Latvians and 14 percent of Cypriots agree.

“This just demonstrates there is concern and a lack of knowledge about the issues,” said Juris Lavrikovs, a spokesman for the International Lesbian and Gay Association. “It shows there is a lot of work to do.”

Campaigners say hate crimes against gays and ethnic minorities are increasing in many former communist states that joined the EU in 2004, raising questions about whether they are prepared to accept western Europe’s more liberal social values. Estonia and Latvia saw a spate of attacks during gay Pride events this year. In Poland, leaders of the conservative ruling party have made no secret of their distaste for homosexuality.

Gay marriage has become a divisive political issue in countries around the world from the United States to Mexico, Brazil, Australia and South Africa where the parliament agreed last month to legalize same-sex matrimony.

In France, where the leading candidates in next year’s presidential election have staked out opposing views on the issue, the EU poll said 48 percent were in favor, 44 percent were opposed and 8 percent gave no response.

It is the first time that the twice-yearly poll, which questioned 30,000 people, has tested social as well as political attitudes across the EU. It carried a margin of error of 1.9 to 3.1 percentage points.

It said that overall backing for EU membership fell slightly from 55 percent to 53 percent since the last poll was conducted earlier this year. The Irish were the most enthusiastic EU members with 78 percent in favor, compared to their euro-skeptic British neighbors at just 34 percent.

Support for the EU taking on new members increased by 1 percentage point to reach 46 percent. The Poles, Slovenes and Greeks were the biggest supporters of enlargement, with more than 70 percent in favor. In Germany, Austria and Luxembourg, support was around 30 percent.

The poll said 40 percent of people in the EU agree immigrants contribute a lot to their countries. Only 26 percent think cannabis should be legalized for personal use around Europe, and 32 percent believe same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.

On legalizing cannabis, the northern Europeans were divided. In the Netherlands, where personal use of the drug has long been legal, 49 percent said they would like to see that tolerance spread across the whole EU. But Finns and Swedes are strongly opposed, with less than 10 percent supporting legalization.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, December 22, 2006. lomaykaпродвижение красноярск