Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Room for Education on Marriage Ban

The Badger Poll released yesterday shows support for the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and any institution resembling marriage for all couples in Wisconsin.

But it also, paradoxically, shows broad support for what the amendment would prohibit.

According to the survey results, 53 percent of respondents support the amendment while 44 percent oppose it. At the same time, nearly 60 percent of the respondents support allowing civil unions, which are banned by the amendment.

Of course, the language of the amendment doesn’t mention civil unions. All that it denotes is a “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage,” which is actually broader than just civil unions, but nevertheless it could be confusing for someone who doesn’t consider civil unions to be in the same ballpark as marriage.

For many people, marriage is seen as a religious institution. In actuality, it’s a civil institution (you can get married without a church, but not without a state license); yet, since a good majority of weddings still take place inside places of worship, most people have a strong association between religion and marriage. So to think of civil unions as “identical or substantially similar” to marriage may be difficult for some.

Another reason for the paradoxical results of the survey may be that people are caught by the first sentence of the amendment ("Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state") and they aren’t really responding as directly to the second sentence ("A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state").

After all, the percentage of respondents who oppose same-sex marriage (54 percent) is nearly identical to those who support the amendment (53 percent), while the percentage of those who support same-sex marriage (39 percent) is close to the same as those who oppose the amendment (44 percent).

Any way you slice the results, they suggest more education is needed on the amendment, particularly regarding the second sentence. Last week Fair Wisconsin took a good step forward in this task by releasing an advocacy ad that focuses almost exclusively on the broad implications of the second sentence. You can watch the ad here.

For this reason I think amendment opponents can take some comfort in the survey results, despite the media coverage that suggests otherwise.

After all, simply educating people about an issue is easier than changing their minds about it. And, based on these results, it seems the majority of Wisconsinites have made up their minds – they support what this amendment bans.

UPDATE: Cory Liebmann at the One Blog has more.

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