Poll: Majority of Utahns against same-sex marriage and say states have the right to decide

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18 2014 10:00 p.m. MST

Plaintiffs, activists and equality supporters rally at the Utah State Capitol to show support for Judge Robert Shelby's Dec. 20th ruling on Amendment 3 in Salt Lake City Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A majority of Utahns do not support same-sex marriage, believe the decision on marriage should rest with individual states, and say if gay marriage were legal, Utah should pass laws to protect places of worship from having to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples.

But a new Deseret News/KSL poll also shows that attitudes have changed in the state during the past 10 years, fueled by younger people and an influx of new residents creating an increasingly diverse population, which follows national trends that show generational disparity in attitudes for or against gay marriage.

The poll found 57 percent of residents oppose same-sex marriage, while 36 percent support it and 6 percent are undecided, according to the survey conducted by longtime pollster Dan Jones & Associates/Cicero Group on Jan. 14-16. It has a plus or minus 3.6 percent margin of error.

"I believe that they felt very strongly about their opinions on this issue," Jones said of the 746 Utahns who were queried by telephone and cell phone and online. "Most issues that involve religion and religious ideology bring out the strong emotions in respondents."

Religious protection

If same-sex marriage were legal in Utah, 72 percent said laws should be passed to protect churches, synagogues and other places of worship from having to perform same-sex marriages. Twenty-two percent said no such laws are needed.

Jonathan Johnson, executive vice chairman of the online retailer Overstock.com and founder of the First Freedom PAC, said it's shocking to him that some people think churches don't need protection. He started the political action committee to combat what he sees as an assault on the First Amendment and to preserve the role of churches and religious associations in society.

"It makes me feel like if a same-gender couple goes to an orthodox Jewish rabbi and says, 'Marry us in your synagogue,' the 22 percent would say he has to say yes," he said.

"I'm surprised that anyone thinks that the government should force religions to do things," he said. "But because the religious liberties issue today is so tied to the same-sex marriage issue, I can see why it's a sore spot for people."

Interestingly, the same respondents were less inclined to put businesses in the same category as churches.

Only 51 percent would support laws to protect businesses and individuals who object based on their religious beliefs to providing professional services such as catering or photography for same-sex weddings. Forty percent said those kinds of laws aren't needed.

Utah House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he doesn't like the premise of a question that suggests a person of faith or a religion would be allowed to choose who to serve.

"If a photographer wants to turn away business, I just think they're going to be on the wrong side of that. It's not going to be a successful endeavor for them," said Hughes, who manages housing properties for a living. "We don't need a law to tell people how to be good and smart businessmen."

Civil unions

Though Utahns oppose same-sex marriage, the poll shows a majority favor civil unions and are about evenly split on whether Utah should recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

And the results show that women and people under age 35 have more favorable attitudes toward gay marriage than men and older residents, which follows national trends on the acceptance of same-sex marriage.

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