AJC poll: Support for gay marriage in Georgia is growing

More Georgians now support gay marriage than oppose it thanks to burgeoning support from younger residents, according to a poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But even the staunchest backers say they are years away from reviving a push to legalize same-sex unions in Georgia.

The poll found that 48 percent of residents favor gay marriage and 43 percent oppose it, making it among the first surveys to show a plurality of Georgia residents approve. It found that 16 percent of respondents said their views have changed in recent years amid a wider push for acceptance of gay marriage in pop culture, courtrooms and Congress.

Tellingly, the largest pool of support came from residents between the ages of 18 and 39, who backed gay marriage by an almost two-thirds tally. That number eroded as the respondents aged. Some 59 percent of residents older than 65 oppose gay marriage, many of them strongly.

Gay rights advocates say the results are a reflection of broader acceptance of gay marriage. They cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits and support from high-profile politicians such as President Barack Obama and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

“Certainly these are the highest polling numbers we have seen in Georgia, but it’s not surprising,” said Jeff Graham, the director of Georgia Equality, a gay rights group. “For years on a national basis there’s been greater support to allow gay and lesbian couples to get married. And even though Georgia has been lagging, change is coming.”

He said when public opinion gets “well above” 50 percent in Georgia, his organization will rally behind a push for gay marriage rights in Georgia.

That may take a while.

Previous polls show opposition to gay marriage at much higher rates, and even the most optimistic supporters are mindful of the overwhelming support for the 2004 amendment banning gay marriage here. Don’t expect Georgia’s Republican leaders, who are nearly unanimous in their opposition to gay marriage, to broach the subject again.

“I have not heard of any interest in bringing gay marriage back up,” Gov. Nathan Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The results show how polarizing the issue remains in Georgia, as a majority neither support nor oppose legalization. Views are changing slowly, led by more affluent residents. Some 59 percent of residents with incomes over $100,000 support gay marriage, and 25 percent of them said they reached that opinion within the past few years.

Pollster Seth Brohinksy of Abt SRBI, the research firm that conducted the survey, noted that nearly one in five middle-age Georgians also said their opinion has changed over the past few years.

“With opinions on the subject changing quickly nationwide, that segment of the population will have a big impact on future support for gay marriage in Georgia,” he said.

Yet opponents are more likely to feel more adamant about their stance than supporters. The poll shows that 38 percent of opponents feel “strongly” opposed while only 5 percent are “somewhat” against it. One of those is Fredda Malone, an 85-year-old retired teacher from North Georgia, who said her opposition is rooted in “biblical and moral grounds.”

“I just know it’s wrong and I do not approve it,” Malone said. “I was married to the same man for 49 years and I’ve raised two daughters who are fine Christian women. If there’s one thing I always told my high school students, it was that morals and manners never went out of style. And gay marriage is immoral.”

Nancy LaValley, a 54-year-old Atlanta jewelry designer, said she once felt the same way. (“I grew up Catholic,” she said with a chuckle when asked about her previous views.) But she said her opinion has changed over the years.

“I don’t care one way or another. I think that if people love the same sex, let them marry the same sex,” she said. “I see very loving gay couples, and I think that’s fine. They’re entitled to the same benefits as married people.”

LaValley, who is twice-married, added this: “Gays should be able to be as miserable as the rest of us.”

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