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Religious Tolerance logo

National U.S. public opinion polls on same-sex marriage (SSM)

2013: A very large Reuters/Ipsos national poll
concerning same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions

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Continued from an earlier essay

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2013-JAN-01 to MAR-14: Reuters/Ipsos conducts a massive nationalpoll about civil unions and same-sex marriage:

Most public opinion polls simply ask 1,000 or so subjects whether they would like to have same-sex marriage legalized. The subjects could then answer in one of three ways: yes, no, or don't have an opinion. However this Reuters poll is different for two reasons:

  • An enormous number of individuals were contacted: 24,455 adults in total. This means that the margin of error is much smaller than ~+mn~2 percentage points as in conventional polls. It is about ~+mn~0.6 percentage points for this poll. This means that the poll results are much more precise.

  • The survey gave the subjects four options in their answer: they expressed their preference that loving committed same-sex couples:
    1. Be allowed to marry. (41%)
    2. Not be allowed to marry, but to have their relationship recognized by a civil union with all of the state's marriage benefits and protections. (22%)
    3. Be not recognized at all by the state. They would be regarded by the state as "legal strangers" -- as simple roommates. (about 25%)
    4. Don't know or refuse to answer. (12%) 1

Reuters reported that support for SSM ranged from a hight of 69% in the Northeastern states -- many of which have already legalized SSM, to 57% in the South. They also commented that:

"Overall, surveys have shown a drop in endorsement of civil unions simultaneous to a rise in support of same-sex marriage.

'While there is some divergence between those who support legalizing civil unions versus marriage, these groups are both likely to sit on the same side of the fence on the issue if pushed to a decision,' said Julia Clark, Ipsos vice-president. 'The long-term trend shows steady movement toward a majority of Americans supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage.'

The support for equal federal benefits in the Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests a majority of people, regardless of their views on the marriage question, believe the federal government should not discriminate among couples based on sexual orientation.

Those views were not tied to respondents' own sexual preferences. The overwhelming majority of people who took part in the poll, 93 percent, described themselves as heterosexual or straight.

Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage. Eight other states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships with virtually all state marriage benefits, but do not allow couples to marry." 1

One day after the Reuters/Ipsos report was published, Senate Bill II in Colorado was signed into law. This created civil unions in the state and raised the total of states with civil unions to nine.

The results are similar to those of New York Times/CBS polls conducted between 2004 and 2012 which showed support for SSM in 2012 hovering around 38% and civil unions around 23%.

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2013-MAR-21: Very strange interpretation of the large Reuters' survey by the Family Research Council:

Comparing the results of the large Reuters/Ipsos survey in early 2013 with previous results from New York Times/CBS polls, an objective observer might have concluded that past trends have continued into 2013:

  • If polling subjects are given the "four choice" option, result indicate:
    • Support for SSM rose from 38% in 2012 to 41% in 2013.

    • Support for civil unions declined from 23% in 2012 to 22% in 2013. This is within the margin of error of the 2012 polls, and is not statistically significant.

    • Support for treating same-sex couples as "legal strangers" with no legal recognition at all of their relationship dropped from 33% to 25%.

  • If polling subjects are given the "three choice" option, as in the earlier Washington Post survey, results indicate:
    • Support for SSM is at 58% -- a value slightly higher that reported by dozens of earlier polls, and a new record high for the U.S.

However, the Family Research Council [FRC] -- an organization that has been classified as an active anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center 2 -- claimed that support for SSM has dropped precipitously, from:

  • 58% on MAR-18, as shown by the Washington Post/ABC poll, to
  • 41% on MAR- 20, as shown by the Reuters/Ipsos poll.

They claim that this is a drop of 17 percentage points in two days!

Tony Perkins wrote:

"The Washington Post thought it knew where the American people stood on marriage. Just two days ago, news outlets were plastering its poll results of 'record' backing for same-sex 'marriage' on their websites--only to see the support vanish as quickly as it appeared. Today, the Reuters Corporation released the results of an even bigger poll than the Post's and found that only 41% of America supports the case being made by Ted Olson and David Boies at the Supreme Court. In an astonishingly large survey sample, 24,455 people (23,000 more than the Washington Post's survey!), barely four out of 10 Americans thought homosexuals should be allowed to 'marry.' 3

This comment reminds me of a debate in one state over the death penalty. Both sides claimed that most adults favored their position:

  • Those who wanted to continue the death penalty conducted a poll that asked something like "Do you favor retaining or abolishing the death penalty?" Most people said they wanted to continue having the state execute people.

  • Those who wanted to abolish the death panalty gave three options: retaining the death penalty, abolishing the death penalty, and creating a new option of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole -- ever. The response was split three ways. No option received an absolute majority, but the new option of life imprisonment without parole received the greatest support.

The two polls asked very different questions. One cannot legitimately compare number from two very differently structured polls and draw conclusions.

The blog JoeMyGod posted both Perkin's comments 4 and an excerpt from the Reuter's article. 1 He concluded:

"Since you can't get federal benefits without marriage, the real result of the Reuters survey is that 55% figure, which almost exactly matches the 58% reported by the Washington Post." 5

The JoeMyGod blog receive 84 comments within two days. Two of the most interesting postings were:

  • TommyTune wrote: "... the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution either mean what they say and are true for everyone or they're true for no one."

The 14th Amendment requires the federal government to treat everyone equally. It is up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide this year whether this applies to LGBT community as well as to straight people.

  • John B wrote: "The irony is that the opponents of marriage equality keep pointing to these polls where civil unions are offered as a third option -- which is the ONLY way they can get support for full marriage rights to fall below 50%. But with 2/3 of Americans now supporting one or the other, what these polls really show is that those who oppose both marriage equality AND civil unions are extremists who are in a small and rapidly dwindling minority far outside the American mainstream." 5

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More developments expected

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Maurice Tamman and Joan Biskupic, "Majority supports benefits for same-sex couples: Reuters/Ipsos poll," Reuters, 2013-MAR-20, at:
  2. "General Hate -- 198 groups," Intelligence Report," Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2013; Issue 149, P. 48.
  3. Tony Perkins "Are Voters Getting Cold Feet on Same-sex 'Marriage'?," Washington Update, Family Research Council, undated, at:
  4. Charlie Joughin, "Americans Support Marriage Equality by Historic Margin in New Poll," Human Rights Campaign blog, 2013-MAR-18, at:
  5. "Perkins: WaPo's Marriage Poll is a Lie," JoeMyGod blog, 2013-MAR-20, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Polls > SSM-Civil union polls > here

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Copyright 2013  by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-MAR-22
Latest update: 2013-MAR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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