Poll: Majority of Utahns against same-sex marriage and say states have the right to decide
"This really is a generational shift," said Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "If this poll had been taken 10 years ago, the results would have been very different. The times they are a changin'."
In 2004, Utah voters approved a state constitutional amendment 66 percent to 34 percent defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The poll suggests it would pass today but not by that wide of a margin.
Perlich, who analyzed the poll results, attributed the shift to the state's changing demographics, noting that millenials will out number baby boomers in the next decade.
As immigrants and people of color and different religions, sexual orientation and gender identity moved to Utah or come out of the shadows, there is a slowly emerging acceptance of diversity, she said. More Utahns now interact with gay, lesbian or transgender people at work or in their own families and that personal relatonship changes their ideas about them, Perlich said.
The poll comes in the midst of a court battle and contentious public debate over same-sex marriage in Utah.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby found Utah's voter-approved definition of marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The state appealed the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to put Shelby's decision on hold.
More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples married during a 17-day period in December and January until the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay pending the appeal.
Disagreeing with Shelby
In the poll, 55 percent disagreed with Shelby's ruling that overturned the state's constitutional amendment defining marriage, while 33 percent agreed. And 56 percent believe individual states have the right to define marriage, while 39 percent say they do not.
"It's evident they don't want government interfering in their own state policies and religious beliefs," Jones said.
One poll participant, Stephen Green, opposes same-sex marriage and said he believes Shelby's ruling was in error.
"It's probably greatly due to my moral convictions and my beliefs, my strong Christian beliefs," he said.
Suzanne Gerken, another survey respondent, supports the court decision.
"I just think everybody has a right to marry who they love, and it's about love and rights," she said.
Asked how they would vote if the amendment defining marriage between a man and woman were on the ballot today, 54 percent of those polled said they would vote for it, 39 percent would vote against it and 7 percent were undecided.
Although the question on the ballot and the poll are the same, making a direct comparison between the results is difficult because the election accounts for voters, while the poll is a sample of all Utahns.
Still, Quin Monson, head of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said support for the amendment is less now than it was 10 years ago.
"That does show some change since 2004," he said.
LDS oppose gay marriage
Active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remain overwhelming opposed to same-sex marriage.
The survey showed that 89 percent of those who identified themselves as active Mormons oppose gay marriage. That number fell to 76 percent when they were combined with people who considered themselves somewhat active or not active Mormons. Seventeen percent of all Mormon respondents support same-sex marriage.
Civil unions are a different matter for Latter-day Saints.
The polls showed 41 percent of active Mormons favor civil unions and, the number rose to 48 percent when both active and less active Mormons were considered.
Gov. Gary Herbert said it doesn't matter what polls say.
"We've had a vote. We've had a constitutional amendment. We've had the people speak," he said.
Herbert said it's a matter of following the law.
"We are obligated to follow law," he said. "I make no moral judgement as governor. I'm not the religious leader of the state. I'm just the governor."
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