NEW YORK (AP) — Although most Americans say gays should have equal rights in the job market, they oppose giving homosexuals a legal right to marry by 57 percent to 30 percent, according to an Associated Press poll.
Conservative and liberal lawmakers have squared off on this issue because Hawaii’s highest court has signaled it might legalize same-sex marriage within the next two years. The poll indicates the issue causes disagreement within many families, too.
Two-thirds of men oppose gay marriage, but only 49 percent of women do, and opposition also falls under 50 percent among all adults under age 45. Those under age 35 split almost evenly on the issue, with 44 percent in favor of the right to marry and 47 percent opposed.
Gay rights groups want to link homosexual marriage to workplace issues because Americans increasingly support gay rights in terms of job opportunities — 85 percent to 10 percent in the poll, compared with 76 percent to 16 percent in an AP poll in 1992.
“We know that is our strongest issue. Gay marriage is our weakest issue,” said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Even among people who favor political candidates endorsed by the Christian conservative movement, 77 percent think gays should have equal rights to jobs.
But some Christian conservatives like the Rev. Lou Sheldon see gay marriage as a big threat to society. He said gay activists “had a calculated plan to destroy marriage, as we knew it, through the Hawaii case.”
Bills barring recognition of same-sex marriage have been enacted in 11 states and introduced in 23 others and in both houses of Congress.
“The legislation that we’re talking about, the Defense of Marriage Act, is a reactive piece of legislation,” said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga. “It is a reaction to the aggressive agenda of the homosexual extremists.”
In electoral politics, the poll suggests that gay rights is a less divisive issue than abortion. If a candidate supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, that would make a difference to most people. Twenty-five percent would be more likely to vote for that candidate, 43 percent less likely.
But if a candidate supports a law to protect homosexuals from discrimination, that makes a difference to only half those polled: 22 percent would be more likely to vote for that candidate, 28 percent less likely.
On a related issue, only 15 percent of Americans think lesbians and gay men should be completely banned from the military, as they were in recent decades.
Still, there is an almost even split between 40 percent who think gays should have the right to serve openly in the military and 37 percent who think they should be allowed to serve only as long as they keep their homosexuality private.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide the outcome of several lawsuits challenging the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise: Commanders may not ask service members their sexual orientation, while gays are not allowed to engage in homosexual acts or reveal their homosexuality, even to a counselor or chaplain.