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.