- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

RICHMOND — A proposed constitutional ban in Virginia on same-sex “marriage” has broad public support heading into the fall referendum, according to a statewide poll.

Asked how they would vote on a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman, 56 percent said they would support it and 38 percent said they were opposed. Six percent were undecided.

Virginia is one of at least six states voting on a constitutional ban on same-sex “marriage” this fall. Voters in 20 states have approved such amendments, most of them overwhelmingly. Twenty-five other states forbid same-sex “marriage” by statutes.

The telephone poll of 625 randomly selected registered voters likely to take part in the Nov. 7 referendum was conducted last Tuesday to Thursday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. in the District.

The survey had a margin of error of four percentage points.

Supporters of the amendment made up a clear majority in every region of the state except the D.C. suburbs, where 48 percent were against the amendment, 44 percent supported it, and 8 percent were undecided, the poll shows.

Among respondents who identified themselves as Republicans, 82 percent support the amendment, and among Democratic voters, 27 percent said they support it.

Support for the amendment was strongest among men.

Sixty-one percent of the men surveyed backed the measure, with 3 percent undecided, compared with 51 percent of women, with 9 percent undecided.

Because pollsters did not read respondents the entire question that will appear on the ballot, opponents say the poll is flawed. Those surveyed heard only the first sentence of the ballot question.

Two subsequent sentences extend the ban to cover any legal arrangements or covenants that replicate “the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities or effects of marriage.”

“When you ask only one sentence, obviously the yeses are a lot higher,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, manager of the Commonwealth Coalition, a campaign leading opposition to the amendment.

Opponents argue that the full amendment is so broad that it not only would affect same-sex “marriage” — forbidden by state law — but also undermine the ability of unmarried people to enter into contracts.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said he supports limiting marriage to one man and one woman but will oppose the referendum because of the legal harm the final two sentences of the amendment could cause to personal contracts.

Miss Gastanaga said a poll commissioned by her organization and conducted last month by two private firms — one Democratic, one Republican — showed that when the full amendment text is read, support fell to 45 percent, opposition increased to 40 percent, and 14 percent were undecided.

J. Bradford Coker, managing director of the independent Mason-Dixon polling firm, said Miss Gastanaga has a point.

“In her defense, we polled on this issue in one other state where we saw that the additional language can suck support down. So there is some merit in what she’s saying,” Mr. Coker said.

He said the full text probably will be part of two or three other polls the firm will conduct before the referendum.

But he noted that on the printed ballot, the first sentence is set apart from the other two in a separate paragraph with a line of space between them.

“There is that paragraph break, and I think a lot of voters may only read that first sentence,” he said.

Amendment supporters said the poll verified that there is strong support for the amendment.

“We’re confident Virginia is going to join 20 other states in passing marriage amendments this year. This poll indicates that is the direction we are heading,” said Chris Freund, a spokesman for the Family Foundation.

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