Half of Pennsylvanians favor a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage and an even larger percentage think the state should at least allow civil unions, according to a Franklin & Marshall College unveiled Wednesday.
The poll shows about a third (33 percent) strongly favor a constitutional amendment that would allow homosexual couples to get married and about another sixth (17 percent), said they would somewhat favor a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage.
The poll shows more than three-fifths (62 percent) at least somewhat favor passage of a state law that would allow homosexual couple to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples. Of those, almost two-fifths (37 percent) strongly favor allowing civil unions.
That represents a sharp shift since June 2009, the last time F&M asked about same-sex marriage. Back then, the results were almost exactly reversed with a majority (52 percent) opposed to the legalization amendment and only about two-fifths (42 percent) in favor. On civil unions, 58 percent were in favor in 2009, while only 42 percent were in favor in February 2004, an era when same-sex marriage played a key role in the presidential election that year.
The most recent poll, of 525 Pennsylvania adults, was conducted between Aug. 22 and Monday, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points, meaning each percentage could actually be that much higher or lower.
“I think there’s a big change going on with this,” said G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., the poll’s director. “In the next generation, it’s going to be widely accepted.”
One bill pending in the state General Assembly would ask voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, the opposite of the poll question.
The outcome is no surprise because polling across the country has shown a shift in favor of same-sex marriage or civil unions, said Ted Martin, executive director of the Equality Pennsylvania.
“I think it means Pennsylvania is just a reflection of the rest of the country,” Martin said. “People have realized that same-sex relationships or marriages do not constitute the dire threat to society that those who oppose them would like to say.”
Where same-sex marriage or civil unions have been legalized, people have simply “gone on living,” he said.
People are realizing that same-sex marriage isn’t an issue legislatures need to be worrying about when the economy is slumping,
“Pennsylvanians, by and large, like the rest of the country, are very fair,” Martin said.
Thomas J. Shaheen, vice president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, said the poll reflects people’s immediate reactions and desire to be “fair” and “nice,” but support declines when people realize the large changes legalization of either same-sex marriage or civil unions require.
“Most people don’t understand … what the effect of civil unions is,” he said.
For example, he said, New Jersey had 1,200 changes in its laws to reflect the legalization of civil unions in 2007 because civil unions were equated to marriage.
In Massachusetts, legalization led to the state impinging on religious freedom, Shaheen said. The state forced Catholic Charities to begin placing adoptions with same-sex couples so the charity stopped doing adoptions, he said.
“They were trying to use the hammer of public policy to force acceptance,” Shaheen said.
Beyond that, in the last 15 years, 30 states, including Pennsylvania, have changed their laws to forbid same-sex marriage, a fact that shows approval of same-sex marriage is not as widespread as advocates say, Shaheen said. Same-sex marriage became legal in New York on July 24.
The main benefit of continuing to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman is the raising of children, who are better off with a father and a mother, he said.
“It’s not about whether two people are in love,” Shaheen said. “It’s about government endorsing and licensing a particular arrangement between a man and a woman because of its benefit to society and that hasn’t changed. Attitudes have changed, but I do think that most people understand that there is a difference between marriage between two people, a man and a woman, and two men or two women. Most people recognize that it’s (same-sex marriage is) not the best thing for children.”
Martin said the Catholic church made a voluntarily “value judgment” that is not grounded in reality.
“To be perfectly frank, there are no reputable studies … that prove the point they’re trying to make that this (same-sex marriage/civil unions) is harmful to children,” he said. “The studies that have been issued … show that the children of gay couples develop the same as the children of opposite sex parents.”