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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns are not as strongly opposed to same-sex marriage as they were before the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower-court ruling allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, a new poll shows.
The UtahPolicy.com poll released Monday found that while 58 percent oppose same-sex marriage compared with 61 percent in a poll taken in August, those with the strongest opposition have dropped from 53 percent then to 44 percent now.
"I think the trend is significant," said LaVarr Webb, UtahPolicy.com publisher, especially in what he termed a move toward the middle on the issue as the public becomes more aware of same-sex couples.
Webb, who also writes a column for the Deseret News, said most people have friends and family members who are gay.
"The trend nationally and in Utah is that people are becoming more accepting of same-sex marriage and same-sex lifestyles," he said. "This used to be a topic that was in the shadows, and now it's in the open."
An address by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the church's semiannual general conference earlier this month may also be influencing attitudes, Webb said.
Oaks spoke of the "strong tide that is legalizing same-sex marriage" and told followers that when the LDS Church's "positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries."
There have been a string of court decisions favoring same-sex marriage, including a December U.S. District Court ruling in Utah that overturned a voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Utah fought the ruling, but it was upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and earlier this month, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from Utah and four other states seeking to stop same-sex marriage from becoming legal.
"It's natural that after the Supreme Court ruling people say, 'Oh, it must not be important.' That just illustrates they're unaffected by the issue and they don't realize what's at stake." Mary Summerhays
Mary Summerhays, founder of the Provo-based group The Celebration of Marriage, said the poll only measures "the words people use to describe their opposition" and didn't address how same-sex marriage affects children.
"I think it's natural that after the Supreme Court ruling people say, 'Oh, it must not be important.' That just illustrates they're unaffected by the issue and they don't realize what's at stake," Summerhays said.
She said she doesn't believe the trend toward acceptance of same-sex marriage will continue and compared the effort to promote marriage as between one man and one woman to the pro-life movement.
The Supreme Court's 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade, galvanized opponents, and Summerhays said same-sex marriage is "very parallel to the pro-life movement. … That judicial fiat ended up making Americans more divided."
I do see hearts and minds opening all across the state.
But Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said people are beginning to understand that same-sex couples in Utah share the same values as their neighbors, including the importance of making a lifetime commitment to each other.
"I do see hearts and minds opening all across the state," Williams said.
He said, however, that whatever polls show, the rights of same-sex couples to marry are inherent.
"Opinion polls, they're interesting cocktail party conversation, but the simple fact of the matter is the inalienable rights of Utah's gay and lesbian community are not subject to whims or popular opinions," Williams said.
Any fears about same-sex marriage, he said, will fade over time as people see gay and lesbian couples at work, in church and at the grocery store.
"I really long for the day when we begin to push the schism and conflicts behind us," Williams said.
About the poll
The new UtahPolicy.com poll was conducted Oct. 14-16 of 405 registered voters in Utah. Both the current and the August polls were done by Dan Jones & Associates, and both have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent
There were differences between the polls in how the responses to the question, "Do you support or oppose same-sex marriage" were described. In August, the choices were completely or somewhat support or oppose, or neutral.
In October, the question was prefaced with, "In light of the Supreme Court's recent action," and the choices were strongly or somewhat support or oppose, or no opinion.
Webb said he did not believe the differences in wording between the two polls impacted the results.