Arizona voters would likely reject a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages because it also would deny government employee benefits to unmarried couples, according to a political poll from Arizona State University released Tuesday.
The telephone survey of 390 registered voters taken last week found 60 percent are likely to oppose the Protect Marriage Arizona initiative if it reaches the ballot in November 2006. Only 33 percent of those questioned said they intended to vote for it, and the other 7 percent said they didn’t know.
Arizona law already bans same-sex marriages. But a one-sentence proposed amendment would enshrine that in the state constitution. The initiative also would bar state and local governments from offering health insurance or other benefits to unmarried partners of employees, whether they are gay or straight.
Pollster Bruce Merrill cautioned the poll’s results are only an early indication of support because neither initiative backers or opponents have started their media campaigns, which are expected to cost several million dollars. But Merrill said the poll is consistent with other research that shows many Arizonans want to protect marriage as only for one man and one woman, but most don’t support taking away employee benefits for unmarried couples that already exist in several cities, including Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix.
"Society keeps changing, and it seems to me that more and more, people are willing to accept there are gay partners," Merrill said. "Not that they support that or favor that, but are willing to provide benefits for people who choose that lifestyle."
However, a political consultant for the initiative campaign said the new poll must be flawed because the results conflict with a similar survey Merrill conducted in May. That poll showed 49 percent of voters favored a constitutional amendment, and 41 percent opposed.
"When you have a 20-point swing over the course of (four) months, it’s just not credible," said consultant Nathan Sproul. "There must be something wrong."
Sproul said other polls have shown even stronger support for the initiative, and the campaign is well on its way to collecting the 183,917 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. But Sproul didn’t provide any specific numbers of petitions collected so far.
Merrill said the May poll was taken before language for the proposed constitutional amendment was filed. So the question in May was worded with a slight — but significant — difference to talk about denying any legal status to unmarried couples and made no reference to employee benefits, Merrill said.
Strong voter opposition to the proposal matches privatesurvey results in May and August by Arizona Together, a coalition of groups advocating the initiative’s defeat, said co-chairman Steve May.
"Voters in Arizona, unlike some other states, understand this is not only about gay marriage," said May, a former state lawmaker who is openly gay. "The only practical effect of this initiative would be to take domestic partner benefits and remove any legal recognition of couples."
The ASU poll was sponsored by KAET-TV (Channel 8), the Valley PBS affiliate, and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The survey had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.