Poll: 51 percent support marriage equality in Wisconsin

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Polling released today shows support for marriage equality in Wisconsin at 51 percent.

The survey was conducted in March by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and released by Fair Wisconsin, the state's largest LGBT civil rights group.

"Just like the rest of the country, Wisconsinites support fairness and equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community much more than even just a few years ago," said Katie Belanger, president and CEO of Fair Wisconsin.

She added, "I have said this many times in the last year or two, but this is jut anther example of how the question of both social and legal equality, including marriage, is no longer a question of 'if' but 'when.'"

Wisconsin was long considered a state leader on LGBT civil rights issues — it was the first state in the nation to ban bias based on sexual orientation and among the earliest to elect openly gay and lesbian candidates to political office. But the state, in terms of policy and law, has fallen behind many other states on equality and civil rights.

For one, Wisconsin lacks legislation banning bias based on gender identity.

And the state's GOP leadership continues to staunchly defend a 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. State law also makes it a crime for same-sex couples to go out of state to get married.

A federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the national ACLU seeks to overturn the amendment and the statute.

The polling released on April 8 indicates that state policy and state law is out of step with voter opinion.

The polling firm, in its research notes, states:

"Wisconsin, like the rest of the country, is moving toward equality. Voters are in a far different place when it comes to the marriage issue, even compared to a few years ago. Impressive majorities support other civil rights issues, such as adoption and increasing rights under the domestic partner registry. More broadly, Wisconsin voters' reaction to the LGBT community signals a cultural shift, not only toward legal equality but toward social equality."

In 2009, a poll in Wisconsin showed 27 percent of voters supported marriage for same-sex couples.

The Fair Wisconsin/Greenberg poll shows support at 51 percent. Other polls on the issue in the state in the past year have put support as high as 56 percent and as low as 44 percent.

Support for marriage equality among younger voters is at about 73 percent in the Fair/Greenberg survey, and support is improving among senior voters. Also, about 46 percent of Wisconsin's Catholic voters say they support marriage equality.

The poll also showed:

• About 60 percent support allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

• 56 support legally recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states and 73 percent oppose the 1915 Marriage Evasion statute.

• 73 percent support expanding rights for those in domestic partnerships in the state.

• 68 percent support barring discrimination based on gender identity in housing. A similar number — 67 percent — support banning discrimination based on gender identity in employment.

Belanger said the findings show that voters believe it is time to "modernize" Wisconsin law to protect transgender citizens. "I'm very hopeful," she said, "that this is an issue we can move forward on very soon."

• A 40 percent plurality of voters described their feelings toward gays and lesbians as "favorable," a 9-point increase from 2009 and a 26-point increase from 2005.

• 42 percent of seniors say they are more accepting of LGBT people. About 31 percent of Republicans say that as well.

• 40 percent see gay rights groups favorably, which told Fair Wisconsin that LGBT groups in the state "are trusted messengers," according to Belanger.

The poll involved a statewide survey of 700 people in Wisconsin who are likely to vote in 2016. The survey was conducted March 13-18, with about 42 percent of the surveys taking place on cellphones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 points.

Belanger said Fair Wisconsin commissioned the poll because "it's important that we have a very good understanding of where we are in Wisconsin."

She took heart in the results showing growing support for LGBT people and equality across all backgrounds and throughout the state. "This is not just a generational issue," Belanger said, pointing to the increased support among older Wisconsinites. 

Greenberg conducted the 2009 poll for Fair Wisconsin. The national firm also has conducted polling for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group.