NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Presidential candidates who support legalizing same-sex civil unions could lose votes in the 2004 election, a new poll by National Public Radio shows.

The poll of 1,002 likely voters found President Bush was favored over an unnamed Democrat candidate by a margin of 46-42 percent. But those numbers changed significantly when voters were asked who they would support if Bush opposes civil unions but the Democrat candidate supports them. In that scenario, Bush wins 51-35 percent.

Legal only in Vermont, civil unions give same-sex couples many of the legal benefits of marriage without using the term "marriage."

The poll was conducted Dec. 10-15 by Republican pollster Bill McInturff and Democrat pollster Stan Greenberg.

"This is front and center of the 2004 debate, and for a lot of the core Republican religious conservative constituency, this is a critical issue," McInturff told NPR. "And I think it's going to be one of the three or four big things we debate in 2004."

But the divide between Bush and the Democrats may not be as wide as the poll suggests. All of the leading Democrat candidates support legalizing civil unions or similar same-sex contracts. While President Bush has not said he supports civil unions, he has indicated he would leave the issue up to the states.

The largest divide between Bush and the Democrat candidate may come on the issue of a constitutional amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage. Bush has said the country "may need" such an amendment, while every Democrat candidate opposes it. Four polls in 2003 showed national support for an amendment to be between 54-58 percent. A New York Times/CBS News poll in December had support at 55 percent.

In the NPR poll, likely voters opposed legalizing same-sex "marriage" by a margin of 56-30 percent. Opposition to legalization was solid: 48 percent said they "strongly opposed" same-sex "marriage," while only 17 percent said they "strongly favored" it.

"[Y]ou see an issue that has the potential to be a wedge issue, [and] probably has greater risk for the Democrats than it does for the Republicans," said Greenberg, the Democrat pollster. "And that will lead organizations that see opportunity to fan these issues, to reinforce the cultural divide that has deepened in our politics."

Opposition to civil unions was less than that of same-sex "marriage." Additionally, the level of opposition depended on the question's phrasing and level of specificity.

Voters opposed legalizing civil unions by a margin of 49-42 percent when they were asked, "Do you favor or oppose a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples?"

But voters were split even at 45-45 percent when asked, "Do you favor or oppose a law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance, pension coverage and hospital visiting privileges?"

The pollsters asked half the group one question, half the group the other question.

In other poll questions, likely voters ranked "moral values" third on a list of issues that would be most important in deciding their vote for president. Moral values tied for third at 10 percent with Social Security and Medicare and education. The economy and jobs ranked first at 26 percent, followed by terrorism and national security at 15 percent.

Moral values ranked seventh (6 percent) when voters were asked to list their second most important issue. When combining the two categories, moral values ranked seventh at 15 percent.

MEANWHILE IN COLORADO — A plurality of registered voters in Colorado oppose passing a constitutional marriage amendment, according to a Rocky Mountain News/News 4 poll.

The poll of 400 registered voters showed that by a margin of 47-43 percent voters opposed such an action. Additionally, 60 percent of voters supported legalizing civil unions, while 33 percent opposed it.

The poll bucks both national and state trends.

The online version of the story did not say what voters' opinions on legalizing same-sex "marriage" were.

The poll was conducted Dec. 15-16.

 


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