The results of a poll of Rhode Islanders released Thursday shows that a strong majority of voters support extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The survey, conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, found that 60.4 percent of respondents favored allowing same-sex couples to legally wed, a number that is nearly identical to the findings of a May 2009 poll by Brown. The poll found 26.1 percent of respondents were opposed to same-sex marriage.
The poll surveyed 593 Rhode Island voters from Feb. 21 to 23, and has a 4 point margin of error.
Among those who said they favor same-sex marriage, 62.1 percent are strongly in favor and 32.5 percent say they somewhat favor it. Among those who oppose it, 59.5 percent say they strongly oppose it, while 32.0 only somewhat oppose it.
When the poll asked people why they supported or opposed same-sex marriage, half of all supporters said they felt marriage equality was an issue of equal rights, while another quarter said they support it because it is a personal choice issue unrelated to sexual orientation. Among opponents, 40.8 percent cited religious reasons as the cause of their opposition, while 22.4 percent simply said marriage is between a man and a woman. Another 10.5 percent of opponents said their opposition stemmed from believing Rhode Island’s existing civil-unions law was sufficient.
The poll found majorities of people among several age groups supported marriage equality, with 88.9 percent of those 30 to 39, and three-quarters of those ages 18 to 29 and 40 to 49, supporting the idea. Even three in five of people in the 50 to 59 and 60 to 69 age groups supported marriage equality. But support dropped significantly for voters over 70, almost half of whom oppose same-sex marriage while a third support.
The poll comes amid a push in the Ocean State to legalize civil marriage equality for same-sex couples. The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a marriage equality bill in January by a 51-19 margin, sending the measure to the Senate, which is a tougher obstacle for supporters to overcome.
Although Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport) opposes marriage equality, she has committed to allowing a committee vote on the bill. However, Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick), while promising not to block a vote on the bill, told a local news station last month that he has "no timeline" as to when he will allow a hearing on the marriage-equality bill, or a bill proposed by Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that seeks to force a referendum aimed at amending the state’s constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. The committee is expected to take up both bills later this spring.
Despite the legislative obstacles facing them, marriage-equality supporters hailed the Brown poll as good news.
"Today’s announcement from the Taubman Center is another demonstration of the strong and growing support our grassroots campaign to win marriage is building across Rhode Island," Ray Sullivan, campaign director for the Rhode Islanders United for Marriage campaign, said in a Feb. 28 statement. "This poll affirms what we are hearing on the phones and at people’s doors – a growing majority of Rhode Islanders strongly support marriage equality. This independent poll shows three out of five Rhode Islanders believe all loving, committed couples should have access to the unique protection and recognition of marriage. We are going to keep organizing and advocating for all Rhode Island families, and continue to capture this energy and enthusiasm across the state."
[Photo: Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (courtesy of Rhode Island General Assembly)]