Support for same-sex marriage surges in Illinois

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Rep. Greg Harris

More than four of every 10 Illinois voters now support legalizing gay marriage, a 10-point increase in just two years, according to a poll released Sept. 26.

Forty-four percent of those polled said they believe gay and lesbian couples “should be allowed to legally marry,” according to Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. When the same institute asked that question in 2010, only 34 percent backed gay marriage.

The latest poll found 32 percent of respondents prefer civil unions for gay couples, while 20 percent believe “there should be no legal recognition.” Opposition to any legal recognition for same sex couples was nearly 27 percent in 2010.

The poll of registered voters was conducted Sept. 4-10 by telephone, both land lines and cellphones, and has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who led efforts to allow civil unions in Illinois, called the poll results “monumental.”

“It’s just striking how fast public opinion is changing,” he said.

Harris attributed the change to more public discussion of the issue – for example, an endorsement from President Barack Obama – and people seeing more gay friends, relatives and neighbors living ordinary lives. Harris said people look around and say, “Gosh, those families want what my family has. What’s wrong with that?”
David H. Smith, executive director of the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute, said people aren’t getting more education on the issue, but rather “more indoctrination.” He said schools and the media present only positive messages about gay marriage.

Smith also questioned the poll results. In states that have voted on gay marriage, he said, the results revealed less support than pre-election polls had found.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois plans to more aggressively argue against gay marriage, said its executive director, Robert Gilligan. Brochures with questions and answers about the subject will go out to parishes around the state, he said, and pastors will receive talking points to help them discuss gay marriage more effectively.

Harris said that suggests the increased support didn’t come just from people who have been on the fence, but from residents who used to oppose gay marriage outright.

Opinion among Illinois legislators usually changes more slowly than in the general public, Harris said, so this poll doesn’t mean he'll immediately push forward with a bill to legalize same-sex marriages.

“I’ll keep my finger on the pulse,” he said. “When I think we have 60 votes, I'm ready to do it.”