Poll Shows Same-Sex Marriage is a Difficult Issue in Utah

Most Utahns remain steadfastly opposed to same sex marriage, a new poll shows, and likely will remain so until one of several things happen:


— Leaders of the LDS Church say same sex marriage is OK by them.

— Non-Mormons become a majority in Utah’s population.

— Young Utahns keep their relatively liberal opinions on gay marriage as they grow older.

A new Zions Bank/UtahPolicy.com poll, conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, shows that 61 percent of Utahns oppose same sex marriage; only 29 percent support it.

And by far most “very active” Mormons oppose same sex marriage (88 percent), as their religion now teaches.

At the same time, those who told Jones that they have no religion, 88 percent favor same sex marriage.

A complete flip-flop connected to Mormons and the unreligious.

Even though most Utahns – 61 percent – oppose same sex marriage, 58 percent believe the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately rule unconstitutional Utah’s state ban denying gay couples the right to marry.

So, while they oppose same sex marriage, many Mormons also believe the high court will rule against their wishes and make gay marriage legal in the United States and Utah.

Both GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes strongly favor Utah appealing the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling that Utah’s state constitutional ban on gay marriage violates the federal constitution.

And so Reyes has now gone directly to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a ruling on Utah’s gay marriage ban.

Both men are safe politically in that stand, Jones finds.

Eighty-seven percent of Republicans oppose gay marriage, while the numbers flip for Democrats – 79 percent favor, 14 percent oppose.

To see why same sex marriage is such a tough issue for Democratic candidates in Utah, go no further than this statistic: 54 percent of political independents oppose same sex marriage, while only 31 percent favor it.

In most legislative, congressional and statewide races, if a Democratic candidate comes out in favor of gay marriage (as his own party is), he or she is going to lose a lot of independent votes.

And Democrats need independent votes to win major races.

Gay marriage is, thus, the most toxic topic for Democratic candidates, while Republicans can ride the anti-gay marriage vote all the way to the ballot box.

But there is hope on the horizon for gay marriage advocates – if only a little.

The Zions Bank/UtahPolicy survey finds that once one gets out of the “very active” Mormon classification, and among younger Utah voters, the support for same sex marriage gains considerable appeal.

Some numbers:

— While 88 percent of “very active” Mormons oppose same sex marriage, the support drops drastically down the religion scale.

— “Somewhat active” Mormons: 40 percent favor gay marriage, 34 percent oppose.

— “Non-active” Mormons: 48 percent favor; 34 percent oppose.

— Catholics (whose church formally opposes gay marriage): 56 percent favor; 34 percent oppose.

— Protestants: 39 percent oppose, 39 percent favor.

— “No” religion: 88 percent favor; 6 percent oppose.

— Those of “other” religious or spiritual beliefs: 47 percent favor; 32 percent oppose.

It’s generally recognized across the U.S. that younger Americans just don’t see issues with people being gay, or gay people marrying.

While not as distinct in Utah as other places – this is, after all, a very conservative state overall – Jones new survey finds much more favor on gay marriage among younger Utahns than older Utahns.

And among those who told Jones that they have changed their attitudes on gay marriage over the last five years, more changes are toward favoring, rather than opposing, gay unions.

Some more numbers:

— Half of all Utahns 18-24 favor same sex marriage; while 41 percent of the young are against it.

— Those 25-34 years old: 40 favor gay marriage; 42 percent oppose.

— 35-44 years old: 38 percent favor; 54 percent oppose.

— 45-54 years old: 19 percent favor; 74 percent oppose (clearly a statistical abnormality here).

— 55-64 years old: 31 percent favor; 58 percent oppose.

— And among the senior citizens over 65: Nine percent favor; 81 percent oppose.

Jones found that 69 percent of all Utahns have NOT changed their opinions on gay marriage over the last five years – if they opposed it in 2009, they oppose it today and vice versa.

But among the other 30 percent of Utahns who said they have changed their gay marriage attitudes in recent years, by far most have changed in favor of gay marriage, rather than against it.

Even among “very active” Mormons: If they have changed their feelings toward gay marriage, they’ve changed more in favor of it.

Former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is one of these. While always arguing for compassion for gay, lesbian and transgender Utahns, several months ago Huntsman came out in favor of gay marriage – and it became clear his opinion was not welcomed among many of Utah’s conservative leaders.

Jones found in the new survey that while 71 percent of “very active” Mormons have not changed their views on gay marriage at all over the last five years, among those who have changed 58 percent said they view gay marriage more favorably today.

Thirty-one percent said they are actually more against gay marriage than they were a few years ago.

Eighty percent of Catholics who have changed their minds about it now have a more favorable attitude; while 91 percent of those who have “no” religion, and have changed their minds in the last five years, now view gay marriage more favorably.

So, one can conclude from the new survey’s demographics that while Utahns are, in general, still very much opposed to gay marriage, a majority believe it will be the law after the U.S. Supreme Court rules. And younger Utahns support gay marriage over older Utahns.

And even “very active” Mormon’s opposition to gay marriage may be softening a bit – if only a bit.

If the high court rules gay marriage must be allowed, don’t expect most Utahns to accept it lightly – the poll would indicate.

At least in this state, such a ruling would be against the preferences of most citizens.