Public is divided on gay marriage

New Jerseyans are split down the middle on the issue of gay marriage, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Institute poll released this morning.

Fourty-eight percent of registered voters surveyed favored allowing gay couples to marry, while 45 percent opposed it. Those numbers are nearly identical to a 2006 Eagleton poll, demonstrating that the public has deeply held beliefs on the issue that are not easily changed.

Attitudes towards civil unions also remained consistent, with 65% of respondents favoring them and 30% opposing – exactly the same numbers the survey found in June, 2006.

“Usually change is news, but in this case no change in public opinion is the real news, given all that has happened in the past year,” said Eagleton polling director Tim Vercellotti. “The consistency of public opinion on these issues suggests these are deeply held beliefs that do not shift easily.”

Still, 68% of respondents did not have an opinion on whether civil unions gave gay couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

The poll comes a year after the New Jersey supreme court ruled that gay couples were entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals and ordered the legislature to craft a bill guaranteeing those rights.

“Activists who contend that civil unions do not provide equal legal status for same-sex couples have a long way to go in informing and persuading the public,” said Vercellotti.

Even though a very slight majority of respondents (within the margin of error) said they favored gay marriage, 47% of respondents said they would favor an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, while 44% opposed.

The poll surveyed 856 registered voters out of a sample size of 1,002 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4%.

Public is divided on gay marriage