CA Prop. 8 distorts voters’ opinions on marriage

Where is the center of the “centerpiece issue” of the California ballot? Proposition 8, which would rewrite the state constitution to end gay marriage, is supposed to be about moral absolutes–but the polls show a significant number of people are iffy on it, wedge-issue notwithstanding. Part of this is just plain confusion about what the proposition actually does, manufactured by misleading television ads and low understanding among voters (especially outside of the San Francisco bay area) about the current status of gay marriage in the state. The new Field poll probes a little deeper, asking likely voters about their opinions on the issues underlying Proposition 8, not just the distorted triggers that campaigners rely on. The results show remarkable agreement. Field’s polling show strong majorities (roughly 60 percent) on each of the following:

– Matters relating to the definition of marriage should not be written into the constitution. – Domestic partnership laws by themselves do not give gay and lesbian couples the same certainty and security that marriage laws provide. – By eliminating the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, Prop. 8 denies one class of citizens the right to enjoy the dignity and responsibility of marriage. – Extending new rights and legal protections to different peoples and lifestyles such as gays and lesbians, benefits California and the nation in the long run.

The same majority do not believe the message heavily promoted by proponents of the marriage ban, that “If Prop. 8 is not approved the public schools could be required to teach kids that same sex marriage is as acceptable as traditional marriage in California,” and don’t think gay rights advocates are moving too fast on policy in California. Also from the poll, a curious statistical anomaly: 90 percent of those in households reporting an annual income of between $80-100K said they personally knew gays and lesbians; 40 percent in households earning less than $20K said they didn’t personally know any gays or lesbians. (Part, but not all, of the discrepancy might be explained by the age of respondents in each category.) What the polling on these issues underlying Proposition 8 suggests is that the November 4 vote is more likely to measure the efficacy of media buys and messaging than the actual value that Californians hold for keeping state licensing of marriage gender-neutral. More from Reason’s Adam Summers on Proposition 8 here and here.