Support for gay marriage takes dramatic leap in California, new poll shows

A new poll shows gay marriage has arrived in California ? in public opinion if not in state lawbooks.

Golden State registered voters now favor same-sex unions by 59 percent to 34 percent, a 25-point gap that is the largest margin of support for the issue in the three-plus decades the Field Poll has been asking the question.

The new Field survey shows support has leapt markedly in the three and a half years since California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent.

The poll showed increases in support virtually across the board ? among voters under 64, non-white voters, Catholics, Republicans and nonpartisans.

Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said the move to a 25-point gap goes beyond the gradual increase in support that has been expected as young voters age and “replace” older voters in the electorate.

“This is now showing that opinions are changing irrespective of generational replacement,” DiCamillo said. “This is real change.”

As more states approve same-sex marriage ? Washington and Maryland this month became the seventh and eighth states where legislatures have given their OK ? the legal battle in California continues.

Proposition 8′s marriage ban was overturned by a federal judge in San Francisco, and his ruling was upheld by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month. But the appeals court is weighing a request from gay marriage opponents for a larger panel of judges to review the decision, and ultimately, the matter could be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, with a decision years away.

DiCamillo said voters still hold the judiciary in relatively high regard, and years of gay marriage court battles in California are likely contributing to the opinion shift.

“The winds of change are blowing in other states (and) when judges start ruling the same way, I believe that has an influence,” he said.

Citrus Heights college student Matthew Boyd, who is in favor of same-sex marriage, said he believes the growth in support stems from increased exposure to gay relationships and the public spotlight on the issue.

“I think as the years have gone on, people are getting more used to the idea,” the 24-year-old Democrat said. “There’s more and more openly gay people every day, public figures, people’s friends. You can see that they love each other and it’s not something the government should be able to say, to tell them what to do.”

In 2008, the poll showed 51 percent of voters in favor of gay marriage with 42 percent opposed ? a nine-point gap ? but Proposition 8 still passed later that year after supporters’ television ads raised concerns that children would be taught about gay marriage in public schools. The 25-point gap in the current poll, DiCamillo said, would be “a tall order” for gay marriage opponents to overcome should it be put to a vote again.

Still, gay marriage advocates have suspended efforts to put the matter before voters this year.

Eric Harrison, the interim executive director of Love Honor Cherish, said the group ? dedicated to overturning Proposition 8 ? suspended its campaign to qualify for the November ballot earlier this month because it could not raise the more than $1.5 million needed to collect enough voter signatures. He blamed uncertainty surrounding the 9th Circuit ruling and fractures within the gay community, not poor polling, for the lack of contributions.

“Our position was always that yes, if this was to go back to the ballot in 2012, we would win marriage equality,” he said. “It’s not a question of that.”

Love Honor Cherish and other gay rights advocacy groups have focused since 2008 on building support in religious and minority communities that exit polling showed backed Proposition 8.

Sacramento Republican La Toya Harris, who opposes same-sex marriage and homosexuality for religious reasons, said building support among black, Christian voters such as herself will be a tough sell, particularly when it comes to voters with ties to the Pentecostal faith.

“We believe that when things like that happen, the wrath of God is going to come from somewhere,” she said.

Louis “Thumper” Rodriguez also cited religion in his opposition of same-sex marriage. While he is OK with civil unions and spousal rights for same-sex couples, he called the marriage push a “direct attack on my moral values and beliefs and religious beliefs.”

“Honestly, what offends me is a group of minorities are trying to impose their non-religious views upon religious groups,” the 35-year-old Madera Republican said. “As a voting Christian, I find it offensive that they would attack the religious act of marriage.”

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Call Bee Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Smith, (916) 321-5249.

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