Could a religious exemption overturn Prop 8?

by on June 6, 2009  •  In Marriage, Religion

A new unreleased poll shows that Californians remain almost evenly divided on gay marriage, with basically no sign of voter remorse over having adopted Prop 8. There is a very slight edge for those seeking to overturn Prop 8 if they wait until 2012 rather than pushing forward in 2010. Most intriguing to me is how much better chance there is to eliminate Prop 8 if a new constitutional amendment includes a religious exemption and/or a schools exemption. 

There is no surprise in these results, but they do illustrate the need, more obvious every day, to formulate reasonable opt-outs for people who object to gay marriage.  I know that sticks in the craw of many lgbt advocates, but it is both right and advantageous. The framing of the debate – when exceptions to the rule should be created for opponents of equality – drives home the point that equality is the norm.

Many advocates believe that the better course is to hold out for laws with no exemptions, that it is worth the wait to eventually win in ways that do not legitimize the opponents of gay marriage. I understand that perspective, but I am comfortable with (some) exemptions that place the clear burden on those who object to same-sex marriage – let them explain to their children why they are going to have go sit in a study hall while all their friends stay in class. And then let's collect the data on how frequently the exemptions are invoked.  My bet – we will see a very small number, that will dwindle down further into marginality as newer generations replace the old folks.

Despite the enormous noise being made now by those who are lobbying for the exemptions, they are relegated to continuously invoking a handful of examples when arguing from real life rather than imagination: one photography studio in New Mexico, one boardwalk in New Jersey, and one adoption agency and one school exemption case in Massachusetts. None of these situations, by the way, had anything to do with a marriage law. The underlying issue is whether there should be exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. Marriage makes a difference because, all of a sudden, openly gay people are inside that category rather than safely, without anyone having to say so, excluded.

Let me be clear that I do not support any and all exemptions – far from it. Crafting the best way to proceed on this issue will be challenging. But that is where the debate is going. And that, I think, is important intellectually, politically and normatively.

Details on the new poll, from the Bay Area Guardian report:

The poll was commissioned by Polling 4 Equality, a broad coalition of large and small state groups (including the Courage Campaign, Equality California, and Marriage Equality USA), and conducted May 9-13 by David Binder of David Binder Research and Amy Simon, a partner at Goodwin Simon Victoria Research. Overall, the poll shows that California is split down the middle when it comes to same-sex marriage, with 47 percent in favor and 48 opposed. Those figures mirror other statewide polls that have been done since last fall's election, suggesting that many voters' minds are made up on the issue and the percentage of persuadable voters is very small, about 5 percent, Binder said Sunday during an informal news conference after the closed session.

The poll also shows the marriage equality side doing better in 2012 than in 2010. On a series of similar questions, the poll results show more support for reinstating the right of same-sex couples to marry (46 percent yes, 49 percent no in 2012, compared to 45 percent to 51 percent in 2010), or a constitutional amendment to end California's ban on same-sex marriage (47 percent yes, 47 percent no in 2012, compared to 47 percent yes, 48 percent no in 2010).

However, Binder noted that a ballot measure in either year would be close. "It's a very close race regardless of whether it's 2010 or 2012," Binder said. "People's opinions are very strong on both sides." …

Another important finding from the poll is that when a religious exemption is included in the ballot language, support for same-sex marriage increases. Such language means that the initiative would not mandate or require clergy of any church or religious institution to perform a service or duty that goes against their faith. When that question was asked, the results were 52 percent in support for same-sex marriage, compared to 39 percent against, according to the poll….

A question on the poll shows the issue is close and that people are fearful that same-sex marriage will affect their place of worship. The question states, "Churches and religious groups that oppose gay marriage will be punished by the government, fined, or lose their tax exempt status because they can't in good conscience perform same-sex marriages or allow them to be performed in their churches or community halls." Of the respondents, 48 percent found the statement "very" or "somewhat" persuasive, compared to 49 percent who found it "not too" or "not at all" persuasive.

The Binder-Simon poll includes a series of questions that seem to be based on what the Yes on 8 campaign used in its messaging during last year's election. … The questions [include] the "need to protect traditional marriage as a union between a husband and a wife, in order to have the best moral environment for our families and children" (52 percent of respondents believe that statement is "very" or "somewhat" persuasive, compared to 46 percent who find it "not too" or "not at all" persuasive).

There is also a question, "If same-sex marriage is legal in California, then the public schools will have to start teaching school children that homosexual marriage is just as good as marriage between a man and a woman" (48 percent of respondents believe that statement is "very" or "somewhat" persuasive, compared to 49 percent who said it was "not too" or "not at all" persuasive).

The Binder-Simon poll was a random telephone survey of 1,794 Californians. That figure included oversamples of Latinos (172), African Americans (258), Asian Pacific Islanders (265), and labor households (105). The base number of people surveyed was 1,008. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percent. Of the respondents, 90 percent identified as heterosexual; 3 percent as bisexual, gay, or lesbian; and 7 percent did not know or refused to answer. On political party affiliation, 45 percent identified as Democrats, 34 percent as Republicans, 19 percent as decline to state, and 2 percent belonged to a minor party. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents, 73 percent, said that they personally know or work with someone who is gay or lesbian, while 21 percent did not.


One Response to Could a religious exemption overturn Prop 8?

  1. Jeff Baily September 11, 2009 at 6:54 PM

    I wouldn’t worry about reaction to teaching school children about same-sex marriage in schools. They’ve been teaching it in Massachusetts for 5 years now. They call that subject: US HISTORY

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