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Religious Tolerance logo

Most Californian voters support SSM

State trends.
Public Religion
Research Institute 2010 poll.

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Long-term trends in support for SSM in California:

A paper by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University titled "Gay rights in the states: Public opinion and policy responsiveness" appeared in the American Political Science Review. 1 It was a meta study of the level of support for same-sex marriage (SSM) in each of the 50 states in the U.S. over the interval 1994 to 2009.

They found that during the years 2008 and 2009 a majority of voters in New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Vermont supported SSM. They did not supply data for the District of Columbia where a sizeable majority also appears to support SSM. A majority of voters in the remaining 44 states opposed SSM.

However, when California's Proposition 8 passed in 2008-NOV, new SSMs in that state were banned. Even though most of the public supports SSM in New York, the absence of an effective government in that state has prevented SSM from being legalized there. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church has made SSM impossible to achieve in Rhode Island.

In politics, momentum is everything. So the real value of the Lax & Phillips study is their finding of the rate of change in public support for SSM. For California, they reported:

  • 1994-1995: 33% favor SSM
  • 2003-2004: 42% favor SSM
  • 2008-2009: 50% favor SSM

This is a rise of 17 percentage points over a 14 year interval, or 1.2 percentage points a year. This compares to 0.9% per year for the rate of change of the acceptance of inter-racial marriages in the U.S. during the late 20th century.

Proposition 8 passed in 2008-NOV by a vote of 52.3% vs. 47.7%, thus banning future SSMs in the state, at least until the Proposition is repealed. The results were swayed by the investment of tens of millions of dollars in fear-based advertising by conservative religious groups -- mainly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), the Roman Catholic Church, and many fundamentalist and other evangelical groups.

It is obvious that a substantial majority support for SSM must be present before Proposition 8 could be overturned by popular vote. A repeal would probably require at least a 6% plurality in public support for SSM in order to overcome any repeat of the 2008 ani-SSM fear-based advertising campaign by religious conservatives.

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Poll by the Public Religion Research Institute:

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) announced the results of its latest poll on 2010-JUL-21. 2,3 Data had been collected between 2010-JUN-14 and JUN-30 among 2,801 adults. African Americans were oversampled by 350 persons; Latino Protestants were oversampled by 200 adults. The margin of error is ±1.9 percentage points.

Results indicate a 6% plurality in public support for SSM. This would seem to indicate that if a Proposition to repeal Prop 8 were held in mid-2010, the results would be too close to call. However, a Proposition in 2012 would be 2 years after this poll was taken, so it should pass with a majority of a few percent.

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Questions asked during the poll:

The PRRI poll was broadly based. They asked some unusual and fascinating questions relating to equal rights for lesbians, gays and bisexuals:

  • The key question is related to Proposition 8: "How would you vote if you had to vote on a similar Proposition tomorrow?"
    • 51% would vote to allow same-sex marriage.
    • 45% to keep same-sex marriage illegal.
    • 4% Don’t know or refuse to answer.

The PRRI reported that:

    "Solid majorities of Latino Catholics and white mainline Protestants say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, while solid majorities of white evangelical Protestants, Latino Protestants, and African American Protestants say they would vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal. ..."

    "There is a striking Catholic-Protestant divide within the California Latino community on public policy issues related to gay and lesbian rights. A majority of Latino Catholics (57%) say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to just 22% of Latino Protestants. The Catholic-Protestant divide in the Latino community is evident across a wide range of public policy issues related to gay and lesbian rights." 2

  • Should gays and lesbian couples be allowed to adopt children? 56% favor, 40% oppose, 4% don't know or refuse to answer.

  • Should gays and lesbians be protected from job discrimination? 75% favor, 22% oppose; 3% don't know or refuse to answer.

  • How should gay relationships be handled?: 42% favored allowing them to marry; 31% favored allowing them to enter civil unions but not marry; 24% wanted no legal recognition of gay relationships at all; 3% don't know or refuse to answer.

  • Subjects were asked why they thought same-sex couples want to get married: 57% felt same-sex couples were motivated by a desire to get married; 39% felt they were motivated by a desire to change the institution of marriage, 4% don't know or refuse to answer. We found these data to be the most interesting of the entire survey.

  • Registered voters who voted "Yes" on Proposition 8 were presented with three reasons, and asked which was the most important. They replied:
    • 48% Because we need to preserve traditional marriage and values in society.
    • 33% Because same‐sex marriage goes against my religious beliefs.
    • 12% Because we need to protect children from being taught that homosexuality is acceptable.
    • 5% Some other reason
    • 2% Don't know or refuse to answer.

  • Registered voters who voted "No" on Proposition 8 were presented with three reasons, and asked which was the most important. They replied:
    • 56% Because it discriminates against gays and lesbians and the law should treat everyone the same.
    • 22% Because government should not be involved in personal relationships.
    • 17% Because same‐sex marriage doesn't’t affect me one way or the other.
    • 3% Some other reason
      2% Don’t know or refuse to answer.

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This topic continues...

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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. Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips, "Gay rights in the states: Public opinion and policy responsiveness," American Political Science Review, Volume 103 (3), 2009.
  2. "Religion, Proposition 8, and Same-Sex Marriage in California. New Poll: Only One-in-Five Californians Say Proposition 8 'Good Thing', Majority Now Support Same-Sex Marriage," Public Religion Research Institute, 2010-JUN, at:
  3. "2010 California Same-sex Marriage Survey," Public Religious Research Institute, 2010-JUN, at:
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Home page > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Couples > California > Polls > here

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Portions copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-JUL-30
Latest update: 2010-SEP-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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