WASHINGTON – Americans narrowly favor allowing same-sex couples in their states to marry legally, an Associated Press-GfK poll finds. But that support comes with caveats, and there is a close division in the country over the upcoming Supreme Court case that could make gay marriage legal nationwide.
Here are 5 things to know about public opinion on gay rights and same-sex marriage.
SPLIT ON SUPREME COURT ACTION
The AP-GfK poll finds Americans are slightly more likely to favor than oppose legal same-sex marriage in their own states, 44 percent to 39 percent, while 15 percent say they don't lean either way. But the country is evenly divided, 48 percent to 48 percent, on which way the Supreme Court should rule when it hears a case this spring on whether individual states can ban gay marriage or whether it must be legal nationally.
Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states because of a recent flurry of federal court decisions.
MANY SUPPORT RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS
Half of Americans think that even where gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry legally, officials who issue marriage licenses should be exempt from issuing them to same-sex couples if they have religious objections, while 46 percent say there should be no such exemption. And 57 percent of Americans think wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples for religious reasons.
Support for a religious right to refuse service isn't limited to gay marriage opponents. About a quarter of those who favor legal same-sex marriage also favor religious exemptions for those who issue marriage licenses, the poll finds, and a third say wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service.
Geri Rice, who lives near San Francisco and works in law firm management, strongly favors gay marriage. She's torn about whether a public official with religious objections should be exempt from issuing a license but says she believes that business owners should be allowed to tell somebody no thanks.
"I don't like it," Rice said, "but I think they have the right."
REFLECT MORMON CAMPAIGN
The poll results on same-sex marriage echo the views of the Mormon church. Last week, the church called on state legislatures to pass new laws that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination but also protect the rights of those who assert their religious beliefs.
James Esseks, who directs the LGBT project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom "does not give any of us the right to harm others, and that's what it sounds like the proposal from the Mormon church would do."
In Utah County, south of Salt Lake City, clerk Bryan Thompson says he has strong personal opinions on same-sex marriage, but he doesn't think they should influence how he performs his duties. His office initially waited to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in December 2013, after a federal judge in Utah struck down the state's ban on gay marriage. Thompson said he had wanted more legal guidance from the state.
"I have a responsibility as a civil servant to follow the dictates of the law, regardless of my personal feelings or preferences," Thompson said.
GAY RIGHTS DIVIDE REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS
Two-thirds of Democrats, but only 4 in 10 independents and 3 in 10 Republicans, think the Supreme Court should rule that all states must allow gay and lesbian couples to get married. But nearly half of moderate and liberal Republicans say the court should make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, compared only 2 in 10 conservative Republicans. Eight in 10 liberal Democrats and 6 in 10 moderate or conservative Democrats want the Supreme Court to make that decision.
About two-thirds of Democrats in the poll think local officials should not be exempt from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but 7 in 10 Republicans and about half of independents say they should be. But even among Democrats, nearly half said wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to gay couples.
EVANGELICALS DRIVE OPPOSITION
The new poll finds that strong opposition to gay marriage, and strong support for allowing local officials and businesses to avoid serving gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds, comes from evangelical Christians.
Eight in 10 evangelicals, but only 4 in 10 non-evangelicals, support religious exemptions for officials who issue marriage licenses. Three-quarters of evangelicals think businesses should be allowed to refuse service to gay couples, while non-evangelicals are about evenly split on that issue. Three-quarters of evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage being legal in their states, while 6 in 10 non-evangelicals are in favor.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.
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AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com