Most Californians Support Gay Marriage

A new poll finds a small majority believe same-sex couples should be able to marry.

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A demonstration in West Hollywood, California, May 15, 2008.

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SAN FRANCISCO—Less than two weeks after the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage in the state—drawing charges of judicial activism from some quarters—the first polls indicating the preferences of California voters are beginning to trickle out.

A Field Poll released today finds a small majority of registered voters here believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry, the first time since polling on the issue began in the 1970s that more voters in the state have approved of gay marriage than disapproved. Some 51 percent of voters surveyed since the Supreme Court ruling say they approve of gay and lesbian couples marrying; 42 percent disapprove.

The survey, which polled a random sample of more than 1,000 registered voters, finds opinion on the issue corresponds closely to geography, age, and party affiliation. A majority of voters younger than 50 say they support same-sex marriage, as do most voters living in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Nearly 7 out of 10 voters between the ages of 18 and 29 back gay marriage.

That doesn't appear to be the case for older voters or those living in more conservative inland areas. Only 36 percent of those 65 or older approve of same-sex marriage. More than two thirds of Republicans in the state say they disapprove.

Men are evenly divided on the issue, while 53 percent of women favor permitting gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The poll, experts say, may indicate a slim majority, but it does seem to reflect a steady migration of voters in California toward supporting full marriage rights for gay couples. When the first Field Poll on the issue was conducted in 1977, only 28 percent of Californians said they supported same-sex marriage. As recently as 2000, more than 60 percent of voters approved a law, Proposition 22, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. That law was overturned by the state Supreme Court this month.

The question, for supporters of same-sex marriage, is whether the newfound support will translate into political action. Conservative groups have collected more than 1 million signatures for an initiative that could overturn the Supreme Court decision by amending the state Constitution and outlawing same-sex marriage. It will likely appear on the November ballot.

At least one other survey seems to indicate that voters, however supportive they may be when talking to pollsters, could act differently when they enter the voting booth. According to a poll released last week by the Los Angeles Times, 54 percent of registered voters say they would support the initiative to amend California's Constitution. The Field Poll finds that only 43 percent of voters approve of a ban. The initiative will require a majority to pass.