WASHINGTON – Americans appear largely ready to accept same-sex marriage but seem divided on whether the Supreme Court should affirm that right nationwide.
That's according to polls conducted before the court's ruling, expected any day, on whether to make gay marriage a constitutional right.
Five things to know about public opinion on same-sex marriage:
NEARLY HALF SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE
According to an Associated Press-GfK poll in April, nearly half of Americans favor laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed in their own states, while just over a third are opposed. The poll was conducted just before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that will probably decide whether states can continue to bar same-sex couples from marrying.
Other recent polls have found even higher support for same-sex marriage. For example, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in May found that 57 percent of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while a Gallup poll also conducted in May found 60 percent say those marriages should be legally recognized. The AP-GfK poll, unlike the Pew and Gallup surveys, offered an option for respondents to say they neither favor nor oppose gay marriage, which was selected by 14 percent of respondents.
AN IDEOLOGICAL DIVIDE
There's a significant partisan divide on the issue, according to the April AP-GfK poll. Two-thirds of Democrats, but less than one-third of Republicans, support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Even within each party there are significant differences by ideology. Just 15 percent of conservative Republicans, but 46 percent of moderate or liberal Republicans, favor laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Eight in 10 liberal Democrats, but just 55 percent of moderate and conservative ones, support letting gay and lesbian couples marry legally.
On the other hand, more than 7 in 10 Americans across party lines view legal recognition of same-sex marriages as "inevitable," according to the Pew poll.
SPLIT ON COURT ACTION
Americans are split down the middle on what action the Supreme Court should take when it rules on the marriage case, according to the April AP-GfK poll. Fifty percent said the court should rule that same-sex marriage must be legal nationwide, and 48 percent said it should not.
On a more general level, too, opinions on whether same-sex marriage should be legal at all are linked with views on whether that should be decided at a state or national level, according to a June Public Religion Research Institute poll. Seven in 10 opponents of gay marriage said the question of whether it should be legal should be decided at the state level, while about 6 in 10 supporters of gay marriage think it should be decided at the national level.
RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES VS. GAY RIGHTS
As a string of court rulings has made same-sex marriage legal in a majority of states, debate over the issue has shifted to whether businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons. The AP-GfK poll found that a slim majority of Americans (52 percent) say that wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, but just 40 percent say that businesses more generally should be allowed to do so. Still, most said it's more important for the government to protect religious liberties than the rights of gays and lesbians if the two come into conflict, by a 56 percent to 40 percent margin.
More than 8 in 10 Republicans said it's more important to protect religious liberties than gay rights. On the other hand, 6 in 10 Democrats said protecting gay rights is more important.
DIVISION OVER OBAMA'S HANDLING OF GAY RIGHTS
The AP-GfK poll found that Americans are evenly divided on how President Barack Obama is handling gay rights, with 48 percent saying they approve and 49 percent saying they disapprove. A majority (54 percent) approves of how Obama is handling religious liberties.
Democrats hold at least a slight advantage over Republicans on which party Americans trust most to handle gay rights issues. Thirty-one percent of Americans say they trust Democrats more to handle gay rights issues, while only 14 percent trust Republicans more. Thirty-four percent trust neither party, the poll found.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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 3.4 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.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
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