As the Senate considers legislation to protect same-sex marriage, a new poll shows nearly three-fourths of Utahns support legal same-sex marriage.
The new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey found 72% of residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages. The poll shows 23% disagree, while 5% don’t know.
“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
When same-sex marriage became recognized in Utah in 2014 — a year ahead of the Supreme Court decision — it had support from less than half of Utahns. A January 2014 Deseret News/KSL poll amid the legal battle and contentious public debate over the issue found a majority of Utahns (57%) opposed same-sex marriage.
“Now, it has majority support from nearly every group across the political, demographic and religious spectrum,” Perry said.
The Deseret News/Hinckley poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.
“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.
Williams said he also hopes Utah Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney will follow the example of their congressional colleagues in the House and vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, “so that all Utah families will be protected by state and federal law.”
Poll results come amid negotiations in the Senate over the Respect for Marriage Act, which the House passed in July with 47 Republicans, Utah’s four GOP congressmen among them, joining all Democrats in supporting the bill.
The measure stalled in the Senate where Republicans, including Lee and Romney, are trying to work greater religious freedom protections into the proposal. A vote on the bill isn’t expected until after the midterm elections in November.
A 2015 Supreme Court decision required states to recognize same-sex marriages, but Democrats urged a codification of the policy in the wake of the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. In a concurring decision, Justice Clarence Thomas voiced support for reconsidering the court’s earlier same-sex marriage ruling.
The bill would ensure that states could not refuse to recognize same-sex marriages and that same-sex couples would have the same federal protections as heterosexual couples even if the Supreme Court overturns the 2015 decision.
The new survey did not specifically ask about the Respect for Marriage Act, but shows in general terms that Utahns believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law the same as marriages between a man and a woman.
A high percentage of poll respondents who identified themselves as Democrats are of that mind (94%), though a majority of Republicans (61%) also agree.
Among those who identified themselves as “very conservative,” 42% say all marriages should be treated the same, while the number jumps to 69% among “somewhat conservative” voters. More than 95% of “very liberal” and “somewhat liberal” Utahns say the law should recognize same-sex marriages with the same rights as traditional marriages.
A majority of Utahn who identified as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the survey favor legal same-sex marriage.
The poll found 58% of those who consider themselves “very active” in the church agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, with same rights as traditional marriages. The number rose to 76% among “somewhat” and “not active” Latter-day Saints.
According to the church’s website, marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for his children and for the well-being of society. Church officers are not allowed to use their ecclesiastical authority to perform same-sex marriages and the church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions or other activities associated with same-sex marriages.
“We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree,” according to the church’s website.
While the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll shows a majority of active Latter-day Saints support legal same-sex marriage, the Gallup poll found that isn’t the case for weekly churchgoers nationwide, regardless of denomination. Among Americans who report that they attend church weekly, 40% favor and 58% oppose gay marriage, according to Gallup.
Younger people in the Utah survey showed greater support — 89% among 18- to 24-year-olds — for recognizing all marriages under the law than older people, though no age category was under 50%.
Seventy-five percent of women and 70% of men support same-sex marriage, according to the poll.
Earlier this year, state Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, unveiled legislation to codify the right to marry in Utah after the leaked draft of the Supreme Court opinion on abortion worried many about rights to marry, use contraceptives and receive in vitro fertilization.
Although the Supreme Court ruled that states must recognize same-sex marriages, 29 states — including Utah — have what Kitchen called “trigger bans” in place which would go into effect if the current court overturns the landmark 2015 decision.
Kitchen, who lost his reelection bid in the Democratic Party primary election, was a plaintiff in the 2013 court case that helped Utah become the first state to recognize gay marriage after a federal ruling.