Hawaii voters are split over making same-sex marriage legal in the islands, with 44 percent in support and 44 percent opposed. But support is growing.
Only a handful of residents surveyed by Civil Beat earlier this month said they hadn’t made up their mind on the controversial issue.
The trend in Hawaii is similar to national polls showing growing support for gay marriage, also known as marriage equality.
When Civil Beat asked voters where they stood on the same issue in April 2012, a majority (51 percent) said they did not believe same-sex couples should have the legal right to get married. Just 37 percent felt that they did and 12 percent were undecided.
“This is the trend of the country,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “It is just something that people are moving on from. I think this is becoming less of a flashpoint. Not only that, those opposed to it are less fervent as well.”
Civil Beat surveyed 819 registered Hawaii voters Oct. 9-10, including cell phones and landlines. (Most respondents said they had both.) The margin of error was 3.4 percent.
Our poll comes just as the Hawaii Legislature is set to hold a special session next week that will focus on same-sex marriage legislation. Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state House and Senate Democrats, which control both chambers, believe they have the votes to pass a bill.
It’s not a done deal; some Democrats and many Republicans would rather the issue be taken up during the regular legislative session that begins in January. Others would prefer that voters decide the matter through a constitutional amendment question on the ballot. Some religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic diocese in Honolulu, are vocal in their opposition to gay marriage.
The Abercrombie administration and legislators are crafting a bill that exempts clergy opposed to gay marriage from performing gay marriage ceremonies. A trickier legal question is whether church facilities used for ceremonies can also be exempted, given that Hawaii’s public accommodations law says facilities that are rented for commercial use can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
But most Hawaii lawmakers believe that Hawaii can no longer prohibit gay marriage in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark rulings this summer that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowed gay marriage to resume in California. With New Jersey expected to become the 14th state (as well as the District of Columbia) to allow gay marriage, Hawaii appears poised to become the 15th.
More than two-thirds of respondents said they planned to vote Democrat in the Aug. 9, 2014, primary. The same number (69 percent) said they were 50 years of age or older, raising the question of whether support for gay marriage would be higher had more people under 50 been surveyed — the pattern common in national polls.
Fitch said the poll reflects that more members of the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are becoming more accepting of same-sex marriage.
“It is generally the case for gay marriage that time is on its side,” he said.
Politically, a third of those surveyed identified themselves as “liberal” or “progressive,” while another third said they were “moderate” — groups usually in support of marriage equality. Most were also college graduates.
Half the people surveyed by Civil Beat said religious beliefs do not affect their views on same-sex marriage, but about one-fourth said it was a “major” factor. Brendan Hood, a Merriman analyst, said most in that group oppose same-sex marriage.
Ethnically, 34 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Caucasian and 34 percent said they were Japanese. Only 5 percent identified themselves as Filipino, though Filipinos comprise more than one-fourth of Hawaii’s population.
Many Filipinos are Catholic, and it’s not clear whether a majority of them will adhere to the dictates of Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva, who warns of dire consequences should gay marriage be legalized, or Pope Francis, who believes his flock have spent too much time obsessing over gays, abortion and contraception.