An ABC News poll finds that most Americans oppose gay marriage but markedly fewer -- especially those outside George W. Bush's core supporters -- would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban it.
Opponents, however, are far more likely to call it a make-or-break issue in their vote for Congress -- a finding that explains Bush's renewed push for a gay marriage ban.
Among all Americans, 58 percent say gay marriage should be illegal, but fewer, 42 percent, say it rises to the level of amending the U.S. Constitution. Among conservative Republicans and evangelical white Protestants, though, opposition to gay marriage soars more than 85 percent, and two-thirds support a constitutional amendment to ban it, a sharp contrast to views in the political center, as well as on the left.
The intensity of these views adds to the political calculation: People who "strongly" oppose gay marriage -- 51 percent of the public -- outnumber strong supporters by 2-1. And those strong opponents are nearly three times as likely as other Americans to say they would vote only for a candidate who shares their view on the issue.
Similarly, among people who support a gay marriage amendment, 63 percent say they could vote only for a candidate who agrees with them; among those who oppose an amendment, just 24 percent say the same.
That reality underscores Bush's positioning. While an amendment banning gay marriage is not broadly popular, it matters most -- in a way that potentially could motivate voter turnout -- to those in the pro-amendment minority. And voter motivation matters, especially in customarily low-turnout midterm elections.
Bush today held an event expressing his support for an amendment that would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. The Senate is expected to vote on it this week, and the House in July. It needs two-thirds support in each house -- considered unlikely -- followed by ratification by at least 38 state legislatures.
TREND -- While he supports a ban on gay marriage, Bush has been less specific on gay civil unions; the public overall is more equivocal on those arrangements, with 45 percent saying they should be allowed and 48 percent opposed. Support for civil unions is down slightly from 51 percent in a March 2004 poll, back to its level in earlier polls that year.
Fifty-one percent in this poll say that instead of a constitutional amendment, states should make their own laws on gay marriage; this too is down slightly, from 56 percent in spring 2005 and back near its 2004 levels. The state-level approach has drawn controversy since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriages there; they began in 2004. Fifteen other states have banned gay marriages since 2004, and the issue is likely to appear on ballots in six more states this year.
RELIGION -- Beyond political affiliation and ideology, some of the most striking differences on this issue depend on religion and age. Evangelical white Protestants stand out in their opposition to same-sex civil unions (84 percent) and marriages (90 percent) alike, and in their 72 percent support for a constitutional amendment.
By contrast, civil unions are supported by majorities of nonevangelical Protestants and Catholics, and especially by nonreligious Americans. And support for an amendment banning gay marriage drops by nearly 40 points among nonevangelical white Protestants compared with their evangelical counterparts.
AGE -- Younger Americans remain more apt than their elders to support gay civil unions and legalizing gay marriages, and to say laws on the issue should be left up to the states. However, they're the least likely age group to call it a make-or-break issue -- 61 percent could vote for a candidate who holds an opposing view.
Seniors, by contrast, are the most opposed of any age group to gay civil unions and marriages, and the most likely to say they'd vote only for a candidate who agrees.
OTHER GROUPS -- All told, support for a constitutional amendment peaks among evangelical white Protestants, conservative Republicans, Republicans overall, conservatives, Southerners and Americans age 55 and over. Opposition hits its highs not only among liberals, nonreligious Americans and Democrats but also among moderates, independents, nonevangelical white Protestants and Catholics, as well as among those under 35 and residents of the West and Northeast.
Women are more apt to support civil unions than men are, 51 percent versus. 39 percent, and to support legalizing gay marriage, 41 percent versus 31 percent. But there's not much difference between the sexes in their views on a gay marriage amendment -- 41 percent of women support the idea, as do 43 percent of men.
METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone May 31-June 4, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.