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WRAL News poll: North Carolinians split on marriage ban

Posted October 21, 2014 8:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2014 9:59 a.m. EDT

— An exclusive WRAL News poll shows North Carolinians are evenly divided about whether legislative leaders should fight to keep the state’s same-sex marriage ban in place, despite court rulings that have found it unconstitutional.

The SurveyUSA poll, conducted between Thursday and Monday, asked 750 adults statewide whether “the state’s Republican leaders should continue opposing and pursuing [the same-sex marriage ban] in the federal courts.”

Forty-seven percent of respondents said they support an appeal of the recent ruling, while 46 percent said legislative leaders should not pursue a court battle over the overturned ban.

Seven percent of respondents said they weren’t sure. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3.7 percentage points.

The poll’s crosstabs show deep partisan and demographic divides on the issue. Adults over 50 years old want Republican leaders to fight for the ban in court by a margin of 56-39 percent, while adults under 50 oppose the court fight by a similar margin, 37-54 percent.

Respondents who favor Republican Thom Tillis in the U.S. Senate race overwhelmingly support fighting for the ban, 74 to 24 percent. Of those who favor Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, 22 percent support an appeal while 70 percent do not.

Respondents who describe their political views as conservative support an appeal by a margin of 72-24 percent. Respondents who describe themselves as moderates oppose the appeal 36-54 percent, while those who describe themselves as liberals overwhelmingly oppose it, 19-77 percent.

The crosstabs also show some interesting gender and racial divides. More men than women – 51 percent compared with 43 percent – want legislators to fight for the ban, and while white respondents support the appeal 50-44 percent, black respondents narrowly oppose it, 43-45 percent, and Hispanic voters oppose it by a larger margin of 32-68 percent.

Support for the same-sex marriage ban also breaks along education and income lines. Respondents with high-school diplomas say lawmakers should fight to save the ban by 57-37 percent, while those with four-year college degrees oppose it, 37-55 percent. Those in households making less than $80,000 a year favor an appeal 50-42 percent, while those in households earning more than $80,000 a year oppose it 40-55 percent.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear any cases in which federal circuit courts had found same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. That decision allowed those rulings to stand as law in their respective circuits. Among those cases was the case in which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared Virginia’s ban unconstitutional.

North Carolina is part of the 4th Circuit, and its ban, almost identical to Virginia’s, was subsequently overturned by two federal judges – one appointed by former President George W. Bush and the other appointed by President Barack Obama.

The second ruling, by U.S. District Judge William Osteen in Greensboro, gave legislative leaders standing to appeal his ruling overturning the ban. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis have confirmed they will appeal.

During the U.S. Senate debate on Oct. 7, in response to a question about the appeal, Tillis defended his stance. “Two years ago, 60 percent of the voters said that they wanted to define the institution as an institution of marriage between a man and a woman. I feel it’s my responsibility, after 60 percent of the people voted that into law, to defend the laws of the state.”

However, legal experts on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate agree an appeal is likely to be futile. The court to which the appeal will go is the 4th Circuit. If the court decides not to hear lawmakers’ arguments, they can ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a discretionary review, but the high court has already declined to take up same-sex marriage bans this term.

Equality NC director Chris Sgro said North Carolinians’ opinion on same-sex marriage has undergone a “huge shift” over the past two years, with a plurality now supporting it. “But aside from that, the law is what it is, in terms of a potential appeal. There’s no room for appeal,” Sgro told WRAL News.

“I know that there’s been a lot made of this issue recently, but an appeal is absolutely not the right thing to do, and I’m confident that Tillis and Berger know that, despite any polling data,” Sgro said. “It continues to be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage pointed out in that, in another recent poll, 62 percent of registered North Carolina voters said they, not the courts, should decide how to define marriage.

“Speaker Tillis and Sen. Berger are just doing the job that (Attorney General) Roy Cooper was elected to do – representing the voters of North Carolina in defending a law that they overwhelmingly passed by 61 percent," North Carolina Values Coalition director Tami Fitzgerald said in response to the poll results.