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Gay marriage debate likely to play role in ’04 elections

Gannett News Service


Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON – Americans oppose gay marriage by about 2-1, but there are substantial differences on the issue between religious denominations, according to a survey released the same day that Massachusetts’ highest court struck down a law banning gay marriage.

Yesterday’s court decision and the new survey results portend a volatile gay marriage debate during the elections of 2004.

Evangelicals, who are most opposed to gay marriage, are more concentrated in the South, a Republican stronghold that Democrats must crack for substantial electoral gains.

Catholics, less opposed to gay marriage and traditionally more likely to vote Democratic, have heavy concentrations in Rust Belt or Midwestern battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Some Democrats say they believe Republicans will try to push a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage for individual state ratification beginning next year, energizing opponents of gay marriage. Republicans and some Democrats say there is substantial support for the separate Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress in 1996 that allows states to not recognize gay unions in other states.

Arizona passed such a law in 1996. Though all states recognize marriages from other states, Gov. Fife Symington signed a bill saying Arizona would not recognize even legal marriages performed in other states between same-sex partners. The bill was introduced by state Rep. Jeff Groscost, a Mesa Republican.

The debate could become an issue in next year’s presidential election.

“In light of this changing climate of opinion, the importance of gay marriage in the 2004 elections remains unclear,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. “But there is evidence that this issue could become problematic for the Democratic presidential nominee.”

Kohut said those supporting Democrats are split down the middle on whether gay marriage is acceptable, while three-fourths of those supporting Bush oppose it.

The Pew center released its survey hours after the Massachusetts court ruled 4-3 that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

Overall, Pew said, 59 percent oppose and 32 percent favor gays marrying. The opposition rose by 6 percentage points since July, according to Pew, and religion is a factor in the opposition. Pew said that in its latest survey, 55 percent overall agreed “it is a sin to engage in homosexual behavior,” but that 76 percent of those who consider themselves highly religious believe that.

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