SACRAMENTO — A new Field Poll shows more California voters than ever approve of letting gay and lesbian couples marry, little more than three years after passage of a ban on same-sex marriage.
Fifty-nine percent of voters approve of same-sex marriage, up from 51 percent in 2010, according to the poll. Thirty-four percent of voters disapprove of it, down from 42 percent in 2010. Seven percent of voters have no opinion.
The survey highlights an ongoing shift in voter attitudes toward same-sex marriage since the narrow passage of Prop. 8 in November 2008. The latest numbers mark a reversal in sentiment from the first Field Poll on the issue in 1977, when 59 percent of voters opposed letting gays and lesbians marry.
“It’s remarkable the change that’s occurred,” said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. He linked today’s poll findings to voters’ awareness of recent legal setbacks for Prop. 8 as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in other states, such as New York and Washington.
“They’re being influenced,” DiCamillo said of voters. “The weight of court decisions shouldn’t be underestimated. Voters have a certain degree of respect for judges.”
Support for extending marriage laws to gays and lesbians is strongest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 66 percent approve of it. It’s 58 percent in the part of Southern California that includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties, virtually identical to the percentage in Los Angeles County.
Voters 18 to 39 years old are much more likely than voters 65 and older to support same-sex marriage, 69 percent to 45 percent, according to the poll. But DiCamillo said demographics — more positive attitudes of same-sex marriage as older voters die off — play only a small part in the overall shift.
The strongest opposition comes from conservatives, 63percent of whom disapprove of letting gays and lesbians marry.
Poll respondent James Watson of Riverside said he used to oppose the idea of same-sex marriage.
“Then one day it clicked and I thought I could really care less what other people do with their lives,” said Watson, 21, a registered Libertarian who lives in Moreno Valley. “Times are changing.”
Prop. 8, pushed by ProtectMarriage.com, passed with 52 percent of the vote following a campaign in which proponents warned that, if the measure failed, same-sex marriage could be taught in schools. Earlier this month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the measure, setting up possible consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A ProtectMarriage.com spokeswoman declined to comment on today’s poll. Spokeswoman Carla Hass said the group is focused on the Prop. 8 legal fight.
A spokeswoman for Equality California, which opposed Prop. 8 and has helped lead the legal battle against it, reacted cautiously to today’s poll. A survey commissioned by the organization last September found that 51 percent of likely November 2012 voters strongly or somewhat support allowing same-sex couples to be legally married.
Spokeswoman Rebekah Orr said the organization has found that a significant segment of voters seems to accept same-sex marriage in polls but votes against it when they have the chance.
“I think that it’s important that we take poll numbers with a grain of salt. What we know about voters is that they very often poll two positions on this issue,” Orr said.
Today’s poll was conducted for The Press-Enterprise and other California media subscribers from Feb. 2 through Feb. 18. It reflects the answers of 515 voters, a random sub-sample of the poll’s sample of 1,003 registered voters. The sub-sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.