Three out of four Arizonans support the right of gays to at least form civil unions, if not to wed outright.
A new statewide survey finds 45 percent of the 870 voters surveyed in the last week find nothing wrong with gays to wed. That finding is in line with prior statewide polls done by other organizations.
But what is a surprise is another 32 percent said while they cannot support the idea of “marriage” for same-sex couples, they believe there should be allowed to form civil unions that provide many of the same legal benefits and recognition. Of particular note is the fact that includes more than half of those who said they voted for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.
The survey by Public Policy Polling found fewer than one out of five Arizonans are opposed to any form of recognition of a gay couple's relationship. Even among Romney supporters, the opposition is only about one out of four.
The results are good news for the proponents of a 2016 ballot measure which hope to put the issue to bed forever. It also marks a sea change of sorts from 2008, when 56 percent of those who went to the polls voted to amend the Arizona Constitution to define marriage in this state as strictly between one man and one woman.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said she does not believe the poll represents how Arizonans would vote two years from now, after she has had a chance to make her case.
“The media frenzy, the popular culture has been in overdrive the past few months to make the case for same-sex marriage, for redefining marriage,” she said. Herrod said her organization, which was behind the 2008 ballot measure, will continue to make the case there is a reason for the restriction.
Herrod acknowledged what appears to be growing support for at least the concept of civil unions, even among Republicans who remain opposed to the idea of a gay “marriage,” but Herrod said she believes backers can be educated to see there is really no difference.
“Civil unions are marriage by another name,” she said. “Civil unions are a marriage counterfeit.”
Herrod said it's not surprising there is a certain understanding or empathy for gays, particularly as more people know gays – or know of them in even things like professional sports.
“The polls reveal the public has a heart for individuals, has a heart for those in same-sex relationships who would like to have benefits from government,” she said. Herrod said none of that overcomes her belief that the best type of relationship, particularly for raising children, is an intact household with one man and one woman.
While there is a clear plurality of Arizonans who support allowing gays to wed, the margin is hardly a mandate. That suggests the proponents of that 2016 ballot measure might be better off pushing instead to enact a law or constitutional provision permitting civil unions, a proposal that the poll suggests would win easily.
Former state Attorney General Grant Woods, one of the organizers of the 2016 initiative, said he sees no reason to go for the sure thing.
“You could do it in stages,” he said. “But I just don't see the point.”
Woods said public attitudes are changing very quickly.
“People are starting to focus more on the issue and seeing that whatever fears they may have had, concerns that they had, are really not worth worrying about,” he said.
Still, Woods acknowledged that if a gay marriage proposal goes to the 2016 ballot and is defeated, that would set the cause back and probably preclude another public for years.
“It's a risk,” he said, but one he believes worth taking.
Anyway, Woods pointed to a series of federal court rulings voiding various state laws banning gay marriage as violating constitutional equal protection rights. He said that means the U.S. Supreme Court at some point is going to have to weigh in and, he believes, decide that bans on same-sex weddings cannot stand.
In general, the survey shows a link between age and acceptance of legally recognized relationships of same-sex couples, but there were indications that even among older voters the opposition is far from solid.
For example, 36 percent of those older than 65 said they support the ability of gays to wed, and another 42 percent in the same age category said they are willing to allow gays to form civil unions.
Just 19 percent of older Arizonans want no legal recognition.
The survey did show, however, that Hispanics are slightly less willing to support gay marriage than Anglos or other races. And women also are more accepting of the concept than men.
The survey was taken in the wake of the decision last week by Gov. Jan Brewer to veto SB 1062. That measure, billed by proponents as protecting religious freedom, was seen by foes as state-approved permission for businesses to deny services to gays and others.
More than 70 percent of those polled concluded that Brewer made the right decision to kill the measure.
Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said the governor, who supported the 2008 ballot measure, has not changed her stance that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman.
The survey contacted 80 percent of those questioned by automated phone calls, with those who answer pressing buttons on touch-tone phones to respond. The balance are those who do not have “land line” phones who were contacted on the Internet.
It has an overall margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.