October 9th, 2009
12:34 PM ET
10 years ago

Poll: Americans support civil unions, oppose same-sex marriage

A majority of Americans continue to back civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

A majority of Americans continue to back civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A majority of Americans continue to back civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, but oppose legalizing same-sex marriages, according to a new national poll.

The Pew Research Center survey's Friday release comes on the eve of President Barack Obama's speech in front of gay rights advocates at the Human Rights Campaign banquet in the nation's capital. The following day, same-sex activists plan to march on the Mall in Washington.

According to the poll, 57 percent of people questioned support civil unions, a slight uptick, with 37 percent opposed. The survey suggests that 53 percent oppose legalizing same sex marriage, with 39 percent in favor, basically unchanged from a year ago.

The poll indicates that more than six in 10 say say gays and lesbians face a lot of discrimination, more than any other group asked about in the survey.


Exit polls from last November's presidential election suggest that gay, lesbian and bisexual voters overwhelming backed Obama. Many of them had high expectations that Obama would bring results for them on gay rights issues once he entered the White House, and some are now growing impatient with the slow pace of change.

The Pew Research Center poll was conducted in August, with 4,013 people questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.


Filed under: Same-sex marriage
soundoff (87 Responses)
  1. bob in LA

    Potato -Potauto – just give equal rights and responsibilities and end all this non-snese!

    October 9, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. Angus McDugan

    This is no surprise. Americans do not lean as far left as the mdeia and Hollywood would like.

    October 9, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I support civil unions, but not same sex marriage. It's a pretty stupid thing to be debating. Civil Union or same sex marriage; IT'S THE SAME DAM THING! My only gripe with the whole thing is that the TERM marriage is commonly known to be between man & woman and it should continue to stay that way. I feel civil unions should be called exactly that. They should be awarded the same rights as a married couples and not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

    October 9, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  4. Moderate Democrat

    I'm split on this one.

    I can see the whole 'don't call it marriage' argument. But unless they change ALL laws so that "Civil Union" is EQUAL IN ALL WAYS to "Marriages" the debate will continue.

    A married couple does not need to have Power of attorneys and a slew of other 'alternate route' documents to gain the same rights as married couples. "Marriage' entitlements are simply 'GIVEN" to them due to the word marriage. If the laws were written to indicate that any where the word 'marriage' is applies to a law, it is interchangeable 100% of the time with 'civil union', then I'm all for "Civil Unions".

    PS: I need to add, I hate that taxes are so involved in this equation. Every individual should pay a 'flat tax'. No write offs, no independants, no special treatment for ANY reason. 10% of your salary, PERIOD...do what you can with what's left over (for bettter or worse).

    October 9, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  5. Tony in Maine

    Leave marriage to the churches and civil unions to the government. Marriage as a legal state should be abolished with civil unions replacing it. If a couple wants to be "married" they can have a religious ceremony performed by a clergyman but it, alone, would have no "legal" standing.

    That would put everyone on equal footing. I'm sure there are enough ministers and priests who aren't bigoted to perform marriage ceremonies for those same sex couples who want to be joined in the eyes of god as well as the state.

    October 9, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. Steve (the real one)

    Not all of us! As a Christian, I have a very different take on this subject! I could give the standard, "no one polled me" response! Looks like I just did!

    October 9, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  7. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    Now, pray tell, just what is difference anyway? The church vs a civil ceremony....still have to get a license to make it legal don't you? The whole thing seems to boil down to a matter of visitation and benefits.

    October 9, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  8. think4urself

    How about civil unions for everybody??

    If you want a marriage go to the religious affiliation of your choice –it is mostly a religious thing anyway. But the state should supply the same thing to everyone i.e a civil union to consenting adults.

    Read the Constitution this would work and the media, politicians and other noise makers could make hay out of some other non-issue.

    October 9, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  9. Erin McCleary

    How can one support a Civil Union, but not marriage? They are but two sides of the same coin.

    October 9, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. Wheat

    This should not surprise anyone.

    October 9, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  11. Danny

    Why anyone would care if gays & lesbians are allowed to marry is still a mystery to me. Marriage is a legal institution plain & simple. Any religious aspect to it is entirely up to the parties involved. If any religions won't allow gay marriages to take place in their church, mosque, etc... that is their right, but to prevent consenting adults to enter into the legal contract of marriage is just wrong. Let them enjoy the same marital bliss that the hetero population does...that will teach them!

    October 9, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. Brad

    Absolutely, let's give gay men and women the right to have a civil union, but let's keep it short of marriage because they actually aren't "first rate" citizens like the heterosexuals are! How sad for the state of this country that we have to have at least one group to discriminate against, and if the gays are happy, who will that leave?
    My suggestion is to make all unions civil no matter what the gender is, and if you want to get "married" then have your union blessed in the church of your choice, but everyone no matter who they gets the same treatment under the law...everyone has a civil union.

    October 9, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. Fools and their freedoms are soon parted

    Those of us who consider homosexuality a sin should not be forced by the federal government to perform marriage ceremonies in our temples, churches and mosques. What happened to our 1st ammendement rights? What happened to our wall between church and state?

    October 9, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  14. Tony The Beat

    I think that Obama (even though I'm a staunch supporter of his) and basically most of America have it wrong. It's written in plain English in the Constitution, so I don't know why we're still having this debate. Relgion doesn't govern our country–a country that was made based on SEPARATION of church and state, not reconciliation. If some right-wing politician wants to think that I'm going to hell, that's fine and dandy. But believing and dictating are two very different things. You don't see me protesting at a church on the grounds that it insults my existence, do you?
    If you don't BELIEVE in gay marriage, then simply don't get one. No one cares what the Bible has to say, it's as simple as civil rights. This country is WAY behind Europe, and it's pathetic that we call America the land of opportunity.
    And yes, even Obama is wrong, because if I asked him if having a separate bathroom for whites and blacks was called equality (separate but equal), he'd say no. But if I asked him if it was equality if two men get a civil union under the law, while he and his wife get marriage, he'd say...yes? Doesn't seem too Obama-y to me, so I don't know where he's getting his viewpoint from. Maybe he doesn't want to piss the Christians off more, I don't know. But the bottom line is this: We demand equal protection under the law in all fifty states, as guaranteed to us my the U.S. Constitution. Every minute that passes with us not having our rights is another minute that this country is breaking the highest law of the land.

    October 9, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  15. jules sand-perkins

    Most Americans either don't know that a civil union does not bring the same benefits as marriage, or they want, as cynically as Obama, to throw it as a dry bone to the gay community with a winking, "there–that's good enough for their kind."
    The Democrats are not going to do anything for gays. Did Bill Clinton? Has Obama?
    Many gay people are tremendously successful. They would be much better served by our (Republican) party: they could keep more of the money they earn instead of paying it out in taxes to keep bums alive.

    October 9, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  16. Make A Decision Already

    The bible says marriage is between a man and a woman. We should either allow same sex marriage and stop using the bible, or don't allow same sex marriage and keep using the bible. Gotta go one way.

    October 9, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  17. Gordon, Boston MA

    Civil Marriage is a vital social institution!!

    We have had civil marriage equality in our Commonwealth for over 4 years now and I am happy to say, Civil Marriage remains a vital social institution which continues to create strong, stable families.

    As well, it is worth mentioning, we still have the lowest rate of divorce in the United States.

    I am proud to be from New England!

    October 9, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  18. JR

    This is odd, Marriage is just a ceremony, anyone can have a ceremony, it's the legalities that are important, that they be recognized as a couple by the government and civil organizations.

    October 9, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. J.P.

    Marriage is a construct of organized religion.
    Civil unions are a construct of the state.

    Civil unions are a civil business arragement/agreement.
    Marriage is a leap of faith, rooted in religion.

    Civil unions should be the norm for ALL.
    Marriage should only be blessed by the church.

    If Harry and Steve want a civil union, great. Good for them. I welcome their committment.

    If they want a church's blessing in entering a marriage, the church might have a problem with that. Further, the church should not be required to bless anything that falls outside the bounds of their beliefs.

    October 9, 2009 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  20. Lauren

    Civil unions v. Marriages? This is crap. The idea of marriage being between a man and a woman is based off of religious beliefs and convictions, that God said that marriage was only defined as such, but I must have missed the part where laws in the US were governed by religion. As far as I am aware religion and state are supposed to be separated. By not allowing some American Citizens to wed, their rights as citizens of a free country are not being upheld. To deny someone the right to marry whomever they want because of sexual orientation is right up there with denying someone the right to vote because of the color of their skin or their gender. The men and women in congress need to get their heads out of their butts and do something already. Health care reform needs to be passed and it needs to be done soon so that we can begin to focus on other pressing issues that the people of this country care about as well.

    October 9, 2009 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  21. christopher (hartford, ct)

    I wonder how many of those polled realize that civil unions don't offer the same legal rights that are enjoyed by heterosexual married people like myself. It's not a matter of homosexuals wanting to call their unions something else, they just the same legal rights and privileges that our secular government bestows upon all other marriages, from the most elaborate religious ceremonies, to people married in town hall.

    October 9, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  22. gg

    if they pay taxs they should rights if they don,t know more taxes

    October 9, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  23. Carl in MI

    Yeah? And in ten years when the majority DOES support same-sex marriages, then what?

    That's like those who want to make English the national language. By 2020, the Hispanic population will go from being a minority to the majority race in this country. And if the MAJORITY then decides to make Spanish the national language, then what?

    I guess we'll have to change all the stupid laws old white-haired Republicans are trying to make now because they won't apply to the Hispanic Majority anymore.

    One more reason why the Republican Party will become a casualty of political evolution!!

    October 9, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  24. yuri

    We support neither the marriage nor the civil union between same sex couples. If they just live together, that is their business, just as long as they obey all the laws of the land.

    October 9, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  25. al in memphis

    I don't doubt that people have strong opinions about other people based on the choices they make. If a young man wakes up in the morning and decides to wear his pants below his butt, then people who make the decision to hire employee that will represent the image of their company make the decision to pass on saggy pants workers
    Let's be honest, this is not about the benefits to marry. It's about acceptance of personnal choices people make concerning sex.
    God has already insured each individuals right to choose, it doesn't get any better than that. "Opinion alert" - there are consequence to all our choices.

    October 9, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
1 2 3 4