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New marriage equality poll shows a dramatic shift in public opinion in Utah

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In 2004, 66 percent of Utah voters approved Amendment 3, which changed the state constitution to ban same-sex couples from entering into marriage or any other similar legal status such as civil unions or domestic partnerships.

These days, Utahns are evenly split on the subject, according to a new poll–a remarkable shift on the subject after a newsmaking judicial opinion last month bringing marriage equality to the Beehive State and setting up an appeal at the Tenth Circuit.

The new poll, published yesterday in the St. Lake Tribune, found that 48 percent of Utah respondents favor allowing same-sex couples to wed, while an equal 48 percent oppose marriage equality and four percent are undecided.

Public opinion on the matter falls along the usual demographic lines–women are more supportive than men, younger Utahns are more supportive than older ones, a majority of Democrats and independents support equal marriage rights while a majority of Republicans does not.  But the most interesting, if perhaps not unexpected, result of the poll is in its breakdown on religious lines, or rather one religion in particular: only 32 percent of Mormons in the state support marriage equality, while a remarkable 76 percent of non-Mormons does.

Tellingly, though, Utahns overwhelmingly support allowing same-sex couples to enter into some kind of legal union, be it civil unions or domestic partnerships–with 72 percent of respondents in support and just 25 percent in opposition.  Even a strong majority of Mormons–65 percent–support such partnerships, with 84 percent of non-Mormons indicating support.

What does this mean?  It’s impossible to tell for sure, but it probably shows that  most Utahns (and, it would seem relatively safe to extrapolate, most Americans in general) believe that same-sex couples should have access to the legal relationship rights that different-sex couples have, and that the real holdup for most people is the word ‘marriage.’  Obviously, as litigation such as the Prop 8 case have shown, the separate-but-equal status of civil unions doesn’t pass muster for LGBT advocates.  But the results of this poll do indicate that, for many, it could be a relatively short mental leap to full support of marriage equality–if presented with the right arguments.

Take, for example, the words of Mike, one of the poll respondents interviewed by the Tribune:

“Years ago, I would have thought that homosexuality was an individual choice,” said Mike, who is Mormon and came to his views during discussions through the years with friends who are gay. “I’ve come to conclude more and more that it’s not a choice, but something that is inborn and a lifelong attraction rather than something someone chooses. If people choose to live in a same-sex relationship, they should enjoy all the legal benefits that occur with a marriage, without calling it a marriage and still using that term for man-woman relationships.”

In five or ten years, Mike could probably end up being a full supporter of marriage equality–the ground is there for a shift in opinion.  As people move away from outright opposition to legal rights and recognition for same-sex couples and towards understanding the legal elements of marriage equality, there will likely still be many who are simply uncomfortable with the idea of ‘marriage’ being used to describe the union of two individuals of the same gender.  It’s up to LGBT advocates, then, to show just why civil unions and domestic partnerships aren’t good enough for same-sex couples.

Besides, from a political and policy position, it is virtually unthinkable that someone would propose a new constitutional amendment allowing civil unions in Utah but keeping the prohibition on marriage equality, or that a court would settle for marriage equality-lite.  (Indeed, in the Kitchen case, Judge Shelby ruled for full marriage equality, since that’s what the plaintiffs asked for.)  At this point, it seems, it’s really equal marriage rights or nothing.

For more information on Kitchen v. Herbert from The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, click here.

Help us travel to Denver this spring to cover oral arguments in the Utah marriage equality case. You won’t regret it, and you can help EqualityOnTrial be a part of history in the making. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to EqualityOnTrial in the new year to help us continue this mission–any amount helps!


  • 1. Bruno71  |  January 15, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    They always talk about how the people have spoken. "In 2004…," "in 2006…" etc. If it's up to the people to decide, why don't the Republicans in Utah send it back to the ballot, considering how these polls reflect changing opinions on the matter? Is it only what the people thought in 2004 that counts? Why is it etched in stone? Oh, I know why. Because Republicans are kowtowing to the anti-gays, and will defend their bigotry until it isn't any longer politically expedient for them to do so. Cowards.

  • 2. StraightDave  |  January 15, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    That politically expedient tipping point has been reached in many places now, perhaps even in Utah. If it weren't for LDS warping the political environment with their money and clout, they might be nudging past it by now. I think the more belligerent the state gets, flailing against the wind of change, the less people will want to be associated with an attitude that looks increasingly cold and mean-spirited. Their dark side has been flushed out of the weeds for all to see.

  • 3. Zack12  |  January 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    I put a post on Mia Love's page (she's the Republican running for Congress in Utah) asking her if she thought the court had overstepped their bounds in 1967 when they ruled that state bans on marriages like her were no longer against the law.
    My post quickly got purged.

  • 4. Deeelaaach  |  January 16, 2014 at 1:08 am

    If you asked her if "the people's vote" should have counted with interracial marriage, civil rights, the vote for women or worse yet, slavery, I'm sure your post would have been purge almost as quickly as you posted it. The Founding Fathers created a republic – a form of democracy, but not a pure democracy. They can't let silly things like facts get in the way, can they?

  • 5. sfbob  |  January 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Marriage equality lost in Maine in a ballot measure back in 2009. It was restored in 2012 also by ballot measure. So in response the "anti-gays" were stuck with insisting that the public had somehow been had. Whether by legislation, by court ruling, or by popular vote, they simply will not accept our equality as a legal proposition; whichever move gets us there is to them, by definition, not legitimate.

  • 6. Mike in Baltimore  |  January 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    And don't forget, in Washington state and Maryland, it was the legislature, then the voting public, that approved Marriage Equality in the jurisdictions.

    In both cases, kind of a double dose of 'in your face' 'get lost' to the anti-homosexual bigots.

  • 7. Eric  |  January 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Their animus is rooted in superstition, there doesn't have to be a rational reason and their arguments don't have to make sense.

  • 8. Straight Dave  |  January 15, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Perhaps not to them, they don't. But welcome to court and the grownup world.

    Despite all the foibles and frustrations and failures that often occur, I find myself recently awed at watching the promise and brilliance of the American system of constitutional government play out in front of our eyes. That document still does mean something, under-appreciated as it may be in some quarters. And the courts still manage to do their jobs of keeping the Okies and Utes in line. Slow it may be, yes. But also sure.

    A anonymous quote often mis-attributed to Churchill: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities."

  • 9. sfbob  |  January 16, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I would not even give them that much credit. Their animus is just animus; religion just happens to be a handy excuse. One could readily cite other portions of the same religious text to rebut their prejudices.

  • 10. StraightDave  |  January 16, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Religion used to be a magic cloak that allowed you to get away with just about anything. Just mention religion and people threw up their hands and walked away (after bowing, of course). Couldn't touch it. Such blanket immunity led to abuse, which led to the backlash we now have. Religious excuses now only raise suspicions, especially where it intersects with civil law.

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