SAN FRANCISCO—The red-hot issue of same-sex marriage continues to sharply divide Californians, according to a poll conducted last week. If a vote were held today on Proposition 8, a state ballot initiative that would reverse the decision of the state's Supreme Court earlier this year and eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, 48 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes, supporting a ban, while 45 percent say they would vote to leave the law alone. Seven percent of voters remain undecided. The initiative, which will appear on the ballot in two weeks, requires a majority to pass.
Pollsters caution that the poll may not be a perfect measure of where California voters currently stand on the issue. "Polling on ballot measures in general is an inexact science, and polling on homosexuality in general is a tricky business," says a description of the SurveyUSA poll, which has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. "SurveyUSA urges all who examine these results to not put too fine a point on the 3 points that separate 'Yes' and 'No' today."
As television advertisements for and against Prop 8 have begun to flood the airwaves here over the past month, garnering almost as much attention as the presidential race, it has become increasingly clear that California voters remain deeply divided on same-sex marriage. In a half-dozen separate polls conducted over the past month, likely voters have been deadlocked on Proposition 8 each time. Through September, supporters of same-sex marriage appeared to be ahead by more than 5 points. But over the past several weeks, as the first pro-Prop 8 advertisements began to appear on TV—drawing criticism from legal experts, who have said their claims about same-sex marriage's impact on churches' tax exemptions and public-school education are misleading—the polls began to swing the other way.
In 2000, more than 60 percent of California voters approved a measure with wording similar to the initiative on this year's ballot. That law, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, was challenged on constitutional grounds after Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. The state Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional earlier this year.
Newsom, meanwhile, has become an unwilling poster child for the campaign to ban same-sex marriage, which features him in some of its hardest-hitting advertisements. In one widely aired spot, Newsom, standing before a cheering crowd after the court's decision was announced, declares that same-sex marriage is coming to California "whether you like it or not."
As of last week, Protect Marriage, the group leading the campaign in support of the ban, had raised more than $26 million from more than 64,000 donors, many of them from outside the state. Members of the Mormon church have accounted for about 40 percent of those donations. According to the SurveyUSA poll, 73 percent of likely Republican voters in the state support a same-sex marriage ban.
Same-sex marriage proponents have struggled to keep pace both in donations and on the air, raising less than $20 million. But as more polls have begun to show support for same-sex marriage faltering, donations have increased rapidly. Nearly 60 percent of likely Democratic voters say they intend to vote no on Prop 8. Last week, television personality Ellen Degeneres, who married her longtime partner earlier this year, began running her own anti-Prop 8 advertisement, which she is paying for herself.
Same-sex couples have begun flooding San Francisco's City Hall with requests for marriage licenses, fearing they may not be able to marry after November 4.