WASHINGTON — More than half of Americans support allowing same-sex couples to marry, endorsing the goal of gay-rights activists as the U.S. Supreme Court this month prepares to rule on the issue for the first time.
Fifty-two percent say they back giving gay couples the right to marry, compared with 41 percent who are opposed, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted May 31-June 3.
Of those supporters, more than half — 61 percent — want a national law rather than a state-by-state approach. During arguments in March, the justices signaled a reluctance to declare a right to same-sex marriage nationwide.
“It should be a national law that is done and over with,” says Kevin Mangum, a disabled veteran from San Angelo, Texas. “Things change, and that’s the way it is now.”
Momentum has grown behind gay marriage over the past decade. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex weddings, six in the last year alone.
Companies including Apple and Morgan Stanley are urging the court to back gay-marriage rights, as are dozens of Republicans who once held top government positions.
The growing acceptance of same-sex nuptials comes as the Supreme Court is set to rule on two cases about the issue. The higher-profile one centers on California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in the state. The initiative effectively overruled a state Supreme Court decision that had permitted such weddings for five months.
The second case concerns the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that defines marriage as a heterosexual union. The court will rule on the law’s provision denying legally married same-sex couples the federal benefits available to heterosexual spouses, such as the right to file joint tax returns.
In the California case, the court has a menu of options. It could issue a sweeping ruling either way — declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage or decide that the issue should be determined on a state-by-state basis.
The justices suggested during the earlier arguments that they are inclined to take a narrower approach. The Obama administration is urging the court to adopt reasoning that would allow same-sex weddings in California and six other states that currently permit civil unions or domestic partnerships. The court could also rule on procedural grounds, limiting the impact to California, or even dismiss the case entirely.
The poll results illustrate that much of the public would prefer a more sweeping response from the high court.
“There is a wish for this to be over and done, to find a global resolution rather than this being revisited election by election,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa- based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll for Bloomberg.
The higher level of support is driven by the overwhelming backing for same-sex marriage among younger Americans, regardless of political affiliation. Almost two-thirds — 65 percent — of survey respondents under age 35 say they favor gay weddings. Americans over age 55 are almost split, with 44 percent favoring gay marriage and 47 percent opposed.
“I see no possible explanation for how that sort of discrimination is acceptable,” says Leeor Schweitzer, a 24- year-old political independent from Portland, Ore.
The age gap is particularly stark among Republicans, who oppose same-sex marriage in higher numbers. Overall, one-third of self-identified Republicans favor same-sex marriage and 59 percent oppose it. Those under age 35, however, support it by a 5-to-4 majority.
The Republican National Committee, as part of an internal examination of the party, released a report this week exploring its failings among young voters, including opposition to same- sex marriage.
“It was unmistakable in the focus groups that gay marriage was a reason many of these young voters disliked” the party, the report said.
“People my age don’t see a problem with it,” says Chris Paradiso, a 27-year-old Republican sales manager from New York. “As long as they don’t try to marry me I don’t care.”
At the same time, more than two-thirds — 68 percent — of born-again Christians, a strong base of support for the Republican Party, are against same-sex marriage.
“It’s totally against what Christians believe,” says Dena Smith, a housewife in southern Arkansas. “I would not vote for someone who is for legalizing gay marriage.”
The Supreme Court will also rule by the end of June on a core part of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that opened the polls to millions of Southern blacks, who for decades were victims of discrimination and violent intimidation.
Congress was almost unanimous in extending the law for 25 years in 2006.
The high court dispute is over the law’s requirement that all or parts of 15 states, including virtually the entire South, get federal clearance before changing their voting rules. During arguments in February, the court’s Republican-appointed justices cast doubt on the law, questioning whether lawmakers had shown it was still necessary.
More than half — 53 percent — of survey respondents say the law is still needed, while 38 percent say it isn’t. Among Republicans, the numbers are almost reversed, with 1-in-3 saying the law should remain and 58 percent responding that it is no longer necessary.
The poll of 1,002 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.