Support remains high for gay marriage - but opposition grows

Updated
Allan Hoyle of North Carolina, with the large white sign, center, speaks out against gay marriage across from the street from the Supreme Court in Washington...
Allan Hoyle of North Carolina, with the large white sign, center, speaks out against gay marriage across from the street from the Supreme Court in Washington...
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Don’t celebrate marriage equality just yet. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds the issue may have gained just as many enemies as it has friends.


While support for same-sex marriage grew from 51% in December to 53% four months later, the April poll also revealed that opposition jumped by the same percentage–from 40% to 42%–in large part because of growing Republican resistance: 66% of GOPers said they were against gay marriage, up three points from December.

In the weeks following the Supreme Court’s hearing on two gay marriage cases, the poll also found that a large majority of Americans believe the federal government–not the states–should dictate marriage laws: 56% said there should be a federal standard defining marriage, while only 38% said the question should be left up to the states. Additionally, a majority of Americans–63%–said they believe the federal government should recognize gay marriages performed in states that have already made it legal.

The intersection of states rights with same-sex marriage was at the core of two Supreme Court cases heard at the end of last month: one challenged Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage; and the other challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages. At issue in the case of Prop 8, which was enacted by voter referendum in 2008, is whether states have the constitutional right to ban gay marriages, or if as President Obama said last month, “there’s no good reason” to discriminate against same-sex couples, “a class that deserves heightened scrutiny.” In the case of DOMA, the central question is whether the federal government tramples on states’ rights by not recognizing same-sex marriages in states where voters have made them legal.

Decisions on both cases are expected in June. And while DOMA may be doomed, analysts have suggested that it is unlikely that the court will issue a broad ruling striking down all state bans on gay marriage. Such a ruling could energize the opposition, which (as the NBC/WSJ poll points out) is already on the rise.

Other interesting findings from the poll reflect cultural changes in the way society views gay people. Of those polled, 79% said they personally know or work with someone who is gay, and 53% said they knew a gay couple in a long-term relationship. And more Americans believe that people are born gay, not that they choose to be gay: 50% said gay people are born that way–up from 41% in 1998–while only 31% said individuals choose to be gay–down from 38% fifteen years ago. Not surprisingly, most of the people who support same-sex marriage believe people are born gay, while a majority of those who oppose it believe being gay is a choice.

The poll also showed that as the country moves toward embracing tolerance as a top goal for society, GOP voters are headed in the opposite direction.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted among 1,000 adults from April 5-8, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points

Tune into Hardball Friday at 5 and 7 p.m. ET. We’ll discuss the poll’s findings and the GOP civil war over gay marriage with Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of Nationalmemo.com.

Support remains high for gay marriage - but opposition grows

Updated