Support growing for gay marriage in Texas

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Texas voters are narrowly split over same-sex marriage – 47 percent opposed and 42 percent in favor, according to a new University of Texas at Austin/Texas Tribune poll – but that's the highest support for gay marriage ever found in the poll.

The numbers are less encouraging than a Texas Tech poll earlier this year that reported 48 percent of voters favoring marriage equality and 47 percent opposed. But the general message is the same: Texas voters are far more gay-friendly than their state government as it fights to maintain its same-sex marriage ban.

The new UT/TT poll, released on Wednesday, also finds that 67 percent of voters back some form of legal partnership for gays when civil unions are added as an alternative to marriage. That’s in line with previous UT/TT polls for the past two years.

But it’s unclear why the poll even asks about civil unions, an outdated, separate-and-unequal dodge that would never fly in the post-Windsor world. Texas’s marriage ban already lost Round 1 in court and is likely legally doomed. For now, it causes problems for everything from driver's licenses to Social Security benefits.

Poll co-director Daron Shaw tells the Tribune that the civil union question revealed “culture war” nuances:

“The culture war is a lot more complex than you think. It’s not like people have said everything should be Amsterdam. The way in which you execute it does matter. What you really find is that people are subtle. They appreciate conditions and context.”

But for what it’s worth, here’s how the numbers break down when civil unions were tossed into the poll mix. Support for same-sex marriage actually slips to 39 percent, with another 28 percent backing civil unions. Only 25 percent of voters totally oppose either option.

When UT started asking about marriage and unions in its regular polls five years ago, the numbers were a lot lower. Only 29 percent backed full marriage, 32 percent support civil unions, and 32 percent were totally anti-gay-anything. By late 2012, the numbers bumped up to their current levels.

The latest UT/TT poll, which also covers a huge variety of Texas political topics, is its first to ask only about same-sex marriage in a separate question, so there’s no going back for direct comparisons. It has some cool demographic breakdowns, though. City slickers love the gays way more than folks out in the sticks, not surprisingly. And a majority of Democrats and independents back marriage equality, while only 14 percent of Republicans do.

The poll includes “gay marriage” as a choice on questions about “the most important problem” facing the country and Texas today. As usual, it polled at 1 percent. What do Texans really worry about? It’s the economy, stupid – and border security.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll earlier this year found nationwide support for same-sex marriage hitting a record high at around 55 percent, though it drops to 48 percent in the South.

[graphic by Emily Albracht via Texas Tribune]

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