Public favors gays in military, not weddings

 Midshipmen march onto Worden Field at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. for the annual Commissioning Week Color Parade in 2009. Midshipmen march onto Worden Field at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. for the annual Commissioning Week Color Parade in 2009. Alex Dorgan-Ross/AP file photo

Exactly half of Americans support the House-passed legislation to bar same-sex weddings on military facilities, but only a small minority would back further federal action to restrict gay rights, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.

By 50 percent to 40 percent, those surveyed endorsed the prohibition against gay weddings on military bases that the House approved last Friday in the annual defense authorization bill. But only about one-fourth backed congressional action either to block gay marriage nationwide or to restore the ban on gays serving openly in the military, the survey found. The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,004 adults by landline and cell phone from May 17-20, 2012. It has a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.

The House approved the proposal to ban gay weddings on military bases within the overall defense authorization legislation, which drew support from 222 Republicans and 77 Democrats. Democrats are unlikely to allow such a proposal to receive a Senate vote, but House Republicans might force them to address the issue if and when the authorization bill reaches conference.

In the survey, the ban on gay wedding provoked a significant generation gap: 60 percent of seniors supported it, and 53 percent of those under 30 opposed it. Nearly three-fourths of Republicans backed the ban; a 53 percent majority of Democrats opposed it, and independents split almost exactly in half. This question also opened a sharp class divide among whites: About three-fifths of noncollege white men and women supported it, but a majority of college-educated white women opposed it. College-educated white men supported the ban by a narrower, 53 percent to 41 percent, ratio.

The poll found much less support for reconsidering the 2010 decision by President Obama and the Democratic Congress to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Just 24 percent of those polled said they wanted to restore the prohibition against gays serving openly in the military; a resounding 69 percent said they endorsed the current policy of allowing gays to openly serve. In no major demographic group did a majority of those polled prefer to restore the ban. Even among Republicans, just 41 percent supported doing so. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of both seniors and whites without a college degree—two of the most socially conservative constituencies in the electorate—said that gays should be allowed to continue serving openly.

Similarly, only 24 percent of those surveyed agreed that Congress should “pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in every state regardless of state law.” Many leading Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, support such an amendment.

A slightly greater number, 27 percent, said they would support a constitutional amendment to permit same-sex marriage in every state regardless of state law. That’s a surprisingly substantial level of interest, given that no elected official -- and no prominent gay-rights leader -- has seriously proposed such a step.

The largest group, 42 percent, said that Congress should “take no action and let each state decide whether to permit or ban same-sex marriage.” That approach would codify a status quo in which 13 Democratic-leaning states have authorized gay marriages or civil unions, and 29 mostly Republican-leaning states have approved constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriages.

Slightly less than one-third of seniors and noncollege whites, and only 37 percent of Republicans, supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage everywhere; pluralities of each group would leave the decision to the states. On the flip side, a 41 percent plurality of Democrats backed a constitutional amendment to permit gay marriage everywhere.

One concern for Democrats in the wake of Obama’s embrace of gay marriage is that African-Americans, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Hispanics, have expressed more resistance than whites to gay-rights causes in many polls. In this survey, though, African-Americans and nonwhites overall (not enough Hispanics are surveyed to separate this group out) differed little from whites. For instance, a 42 percent plurality of African-Americans (compared to 45 percent of whites) said that Congress should let states decide on gay marriage; virtually identical majorities of both groups backed barring same-sex weddings from military facilities and about seven in 10 from both groups supported the current policy that allows gays to serve openly in the military. Other nonwhites leaned somewhat more than African-Americans toward positions favorable to the gay community.

One final measure offers a different perspective on these trends. Just 11 percent of those polled took the conservative position on all three issues measured in the poll—meaning that they supported banning gay weddings on military bases, reversing the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, and passing a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage everywhere. Twenty-two percent took the liberal position on all three issues.

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