Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Iowa Same-Sex Marriage Poll: 92% Say It Hasn't Impacted Their Lives

Iowa Poll: Iowans evenly divided on gay marriage ban

By JASON CLAYWORTH and THOMAS BEAUMONT • jclayworth@dmreg.com

© 2009, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.

September 21, 2009

Iowans are almost evenly divided about whether they would vote for or against a constitutional amendment to end marriage for same-sex couples, according to The Des Moines Register's new Iowa Poll.

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a ban, and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure.

The most intensity about the issue shows up among opponents. The percentage of Iowans who say they strongly oppose gay marriage (35 percent) is nearly double the percentage who say they strongly favor it (18 percent).

The overwhelming majority of Iowans - 92 percent - say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives.

Sixty-three percent say candidates' stands on other issues will be more important in making their decisions in the 2010 elections.

This is the first Iowa Poll to examine opinions on the issue since the Iowa Supreme Court in April overturned the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage.

The newspaper's poll of 803 Iowans ages 18 and older was conducted Sept. 14 to 16 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines.

The poll has a possible margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April's unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don't care much or are not sure.

Despite the 43 percent opposition to the ruling, 61 percent of Iowans say other issues will influence their decision on whether to vote to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 elections.

"It's really none of my business what other people do in their lives," said Curt Goodell, 38, a Johnston resident.

He identifies himself as a Republican but said he worries his party will try to make marriage a key issue in coming elections. "I don't have any judgment toward people who want to get married: gays, straight or whatever," Goodell said.

John Smith, 50, a Republican from Clarinda, opposes gay marriage because of religious reasons, but he supports civil unions.

"I'm going to nursing school now, and part of the nursing code is to be nonjudgmental," Smith said. "In hospitals, if a same-sex partner couldn't visit or get information about their partner's health? I just think that's wrong."

Immediately after the April ruling, Republicans in the Iowa Senate and House lobbied for a vote to amend the Iowa Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Democratic leaders blocked those attempts.

The court decision turned national attention to Iowa, the first Midwestern state to make same-sex marriage legal.

The issue has taken on prominence in the early stages of the 2010 race for governor, as potential Republican candidates jockey for favor with primary voters.

Also on the 2010 ballot are all 100 Iowa House seats, 25 of the 50 Senate seats and the positions of state treasurer, auditor, secretary of state and attorney general.

Few poll respondents who described themselves as Republicans say the court decision is the single most important issue in the 2010 elections. But more than a third of Republicans say it is among several important issues, while only about a quarter of Democrats put it in that category.

Former state Republican Chairman Mike Mahaffey said the poll shows that, as the party searches for a winning message, the economy trumps marriage among voters.

"I think all of the candidates are going to state that they believe the people ought to be given the right to vote on a constitutional amendment. That's a reasonable approach," Mahaffey said. "I also think when it comes down to it, the overriding issues are going to be what can we do to create jobs and put ourselves in a better position fiscally."

Celinda Lake, a national Democratic pollster, has polled on the issue of gay marriage in Iowa since 2004. She said the minority of Iowans who consider the court decision a top ballot-box issue is consistent with her research.

"What we found is Iowa has always had fewer single-issue voters on gay marriage than a lot of other states even in the Midwest," Lake said. "Now what we're seeing nationwide, the issue has really receded. So, people are not particularly focused on it as a voting issue."

National advocacy groups for and against the ruling have spent tens of thousands of dollars campaigning in Iowa. The Register's poll could perhaps give hope to both sides, since it indicates a close contest if a vote were held now.

"Wherever this has been put on the ballot, there's been a pretty spirited education campaign on both sides," said Chuck Hurley, a former Republican legislator and now president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group opposing gay marriage.

David Redlawsk, a former political science professor at the University of Iowa, took note of the finding that almost all Iowans say the ruling has had no impact upon their lives.

"Given how hard it is to amend the constitution, by the time a vote will happen, this will be the new normal," Redlawsk said. "There's a core that oppose it and always will, but, for most people, they're ready to move on."

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