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New Virginia poll: Gay marriage not key for most voters

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A plurality of Virginia voters oppose same-sex marriage, but three-quarters of them said the issue won't be very important to them in the November election, according to a new poll released Thursday.

Forty-nine percent of Virginia voters opposed same-sex marriage compared with 42 percent who supported it, results from the Quinnipiac University survey showed. Just a quarter of voters, however, said the issue is "extremely" or "very" important in deciding how they will vote in the November presidential election.

The results of the poll, conducted from May 30 to June 4, provide a welcome dichotomy in a battleground state for President Obama and Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall downplayed the numbers. He said people are often hesitant to answer honestly in polls on issues such as gay marriage because of pressure from the political left and the media.

"The only polls that count are the ones on Election Day — you saw what happened in North Carolina," said Mr. Marshall, referring to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that passed last month in the Tar Heel State with 61 percent of the vote.

The Prince William Republican, who is also a U.S. Senate hopeful, co-sponsored the Marshall-Newman amendment in 2006 banning same-sex marriage in Virginia.

"The marriage amendment got 153,000 more votes than [Democratic Sen.] Jim Webb did, who got 8,500 votes more than [former Sen.] George Allen," he said. "Figure it out."

Mr. Marshall and Mr. Allen, along with tea party leader Jamie Radtke and Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson, face a Tuesday primary to determine Mr. Kaine's Republican opponent for the fall election.

But Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, pointed out that national surveys have shown a rapid movement toward acceptance of same-sex marriage. President Obama made waves last month by voicing his support for gay marriage, though he said it's an issue best left to individual states. His endorsement came a day after the North Carolina vote.

"You can't win an election by being opposed to gay marriage anymore, even in Virginia," Mr. Farnsworth said, adding that electorally, the issue "has become a flea on the tail of a dog — not exactly invisible, but not far from it either."

"What this means is that Republicans have been deprived of one of the major weapons they've used to hit Democrats over the head this past decade," he continued.

While Mr. Kaine's potential Republican opponents are on the record opposing same-sex marriage, Mr. Kaine, a Roman Catholic, has walked a finer line than Mr. Obama on the issue. He supports "relationship equality" under the law, but thinks that churches have the right to determine the unions they recognize.

Sixty percent of those polled said Mr. Obama's recent endorsement won't affect their vote. About a quarter said his stance would make them less likely to support him, and 14 percent of respondents said it would make them more likely to vote for him.

More than half said presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's opposition to gay marriage will not sway them one way or the other. About a fifth are more likely to support him because of his stance, and about a fourth say it would make them less likely to support the former Massachusetts governor.

The poll surveyed 1,282 registered voters, and has a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points.

Twenty-eight percent of those polled identified themselves as Republicans. Of the remaining respondents, 31 percent said they were Democrats, 33 percent were independents, and 8 percent said "other" or didn't know.

The survey showed Mr. Obama with a 5-point overall lead on Mr. Romney in the general election — down from an 8-point lead in March, before Mr. Romney clinched the Republican nomination. Mr. Obama leads 47 percent to 42 percent. Eleven percent of respondents said they would vote for someone else, wouldn't vote, or were undecided.

Still, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a top surrogate for Mr. Romney, said Thursday that it's way too early to be reading any tea leaves for November, pointing to a Rasmussen poll released earlier in the week showing a dead heat in Virginia.

"There are different polls out there — the point is, none of them matter," Mr. McDonnell said during his monthly appearance on WRVA radio's "Ask the Governor" program. "Romney just finished a brutal primary, so of course his negatives are being higher. He's still consolidating the base. We're just starting the homestretch now of the presidential campaign, and I think it's going to get better by the month for Mitt Romney."

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