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50% in poll back SJC ruling on gay marriage

Massachusetts residents, by a solid margin, said they support the Supreme Judicial Court's landmark decision legalizing gay marriage, according to a Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll.

The poll of 400 people, the first survey of Bay State residents since the court's historic ruling, indicated that 50 percent agree with the justices' decision, and 38 percent oppose it. Eleven percent expressed no opinion.

The poll also indicated that a majority oppose efforts by the Legislature, Governor Mitt Romney, and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to block same-sex marriages and allow civil unions instead.

A majority, 53 percent, also oppose a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriages by defining marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. Thirty-six percent support the amendment.

The amendment would have to be approved by voters to go into effect, and the results suggested it may face an uphill fight. The earliest it could be on the ballot is November 2006 -- 2 1/2 years after the SJC's ruling becomes effective.

In the poll, Massachusetts was depicted in sharp contrast to national sentiment on the highly charged issue.

A national poll of 1,515 people released by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press last Tuesday found that Americans surveyed solidly opposed legalizing gay marriage by 59 to 32 percent.

In April, a Globe/WBZ-TV poll of 400 Massachusetts residents found 50 percent supported gay marriage and 44 percent opposed it.

The poll, conducted by KRC Communications Research of Newton, was taken Wednesday and Thursday. It had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Last week, in a ruling with national implications, the state's highest court said that "barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution."

In the poll, the decision was supported most strongly by women, college graduates, Democrats, and people under 65. Republicans opposed it and men were evenly divided on the issue.

The court gave the Legislature 180 days to recraft current laws to conform with the ruling. Some constitutional specialists say the ruling leaves no room for Beacon Hill leaders to offer anything but civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

But some political leaders, including Romney and Reilly, said the court gave lawmakers room to create a civil-union system that stops short of allowing gay marriage.

The survey, however, indicated that more than half of residents do not want the Legislature to stand in the way of gay marriage.

Fifty-three percent said they want lawmakers to do nothing to block the implementation of the court ruling or to adjust the laws only so that they conform with the SJC opinion.

Bill Luff, 32, who responded to the poll, said he agreed with the court that gays and lesbians have a right to marry. He said the Legislature and governor should concentrate on easing the way for same-sex couples to wed.

"If people want to be together, who cares, let them," said Luff, a nightclub owner who lives in Worcester. "If anything, they should make it easier. Why should they ban it or make it harder just because you don't believe in it?"

Sixteen percent said they want the governor and legislators to defy the court's 4-to-3 ruling. Another 23 percent said Romney and lawmakers should pass legislation that would provide benefits and rights for gay couples, but limit marriage to heterosexuals.

Romney and legislators who oppose the court's decision are pushing for the amendment to ban gay marriage.

But Tarah Bird, a 24-year-old West Yarmouth resident who responded to the poll, said she does not want to see the constitution amended to strip gay couples of the right to wed.

"If two people love each other, they should have the right to get married," said Bird, who recently moved from New Jersey. "I don't understand why they couldn't just deem it the same, and let them be married."

Romney has suggested the state should, along with amending the constitution, pass a civil union law that would provide some benefits and rights for gay couples.

That approach was supported by 37 percent of those polled. His position was opposed by 44 percent. Another 4 percent had no opinion.

Gerhard Hassler, a 75-year-old poll respondent from Framingham, said the court overstepped its bounds by declaring a right to gay marriage.

He said he supports Romney's efforts to ban gay marriage through the constitution but still allow gay couples to join in civil unions.

Hassler also cited his Catholic faith for why he believes marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples.

"They should make a civil thing for them" in the Legislature, said Hassler, a retired travel agent and a registered Republican. "I don't feel that the court should decide these kinds of things. The court is there, really, to be sure that the laws which are current are enforced."

Allen Schultz, a retired Brandeis University economist who was also polled, supported that idea.

Marriage, he said, should be only between a man and a woman, but he added that the Legislature should concentrate on identifying what rights should be afforded to gay couples in some version of civil unions.

"They can call it anything but marriage -- call it `bananas,' or anything," said Schultz, 63, of Watertown. "Then spell out what rights they have, and what obligations they have, and what obligations the state has to them."

The poll indicated that the court case has generated unusually high interest from the public. More than 90 percent of those who responded said they were aware of the court's ruling, which was one or two days old when they were being asked about it.

Legislators, who are trying to deal with the complicated legal and emotionally charged issue, say they are receiving hundreds of e-mails and phone calls about it.

Among women, 55 percent agreed with the justices' decision, and 35 percent disagreed, the Globe/WBZ poll showed. Men are more evenly split, with 44 percent agreeing and 42 percent disagreeing.

The court's decision also draws strong support from Democrats, young and middle-age people, registered independents, and college graduates.

Catholics surveyed were evenly divided on the ruling, as were Protestants.

The Archdiocese of Boston declared its strong opposition to the ruling when the justices released the opinion last week.

The archdiocese urged the Legislature to block implementation of a system that would grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Ross Ozer and his partner, Scott Gortikov Ross Ozer (left) and his partner, Scott Gortikov, took their 18-month-old son, Sam Ozer-Gortikov, to a celebration of the court ruling at the Old South Meeting House. Gortikov proposed marriage to Ozer after hearing of the decision. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
Text of the decision
Gay population
The 2000 Census estimated there were about 19,000 gay couples in Mass., and about 659,000 nationwide, or less than 1 percent of households. Provincetown is the community in Mass. with the highest rate of gay partners, about 15 percent of households.
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