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California Poll Finds Widespread Support For Same-Sex Marriage

| February 28, 2013
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Couples challenging Prop 8 pose before an Appeals Court hearing in Dec. 2010. (Scott Shafer/KQED)

Couples challenging Prop 8 pose before an Appeals Court hearing in Dec. 2010. (Scott Shafer/KQED)

Four years after narrowly  banning same-sex marriage in California through Proposition 8, state voters now approve of gay nuptials by 61 to 32 percent, a new Field Poll finds. That’s a couple of points more in favor of same-sex marriage than in last year’s poll, which found a 59 to 34 percent margin of support. In 2010, the numbers in favor were 52 to 48 percent.

The survey, released today, finds more support than opposition to gay marriage in every demographic subgroup except registered Republicans and self-identified conservatives.

The poll comes on the last day for friend of the court or “amicus” briefs to be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Prop. 8.

Amicus briefs are filed by parties not directly involved in a case, in hopes of influencing the outcome. It’s unclear how much sway they’ll have on Supreme Court justices in a high- profile issue like same-sex marriage, especially those filed by the “usual suspects.” But one last-minute brief opposing Proposition 8 has legal circles buzzing. Stanford Law Professor Jane Schacter thinks the brief in support of same-sex marriage by prominent Republicans,  including Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, could carry some weight.

“What this brief does,” Prof. Schacter says, “is it says that a lot of people out there who used to support [Prop 8] — you know Meg Whitman supported Prop. 8 in her gubernatorial campaign … — have rethought it and now see it as an issue of fundamental fairness.”

Schacter says it reminds her of an influential brief filed a decade ago by retired military leaders in support of affirmative action.

“Sometimes a brief like that from an unexpected source can reposition the way the justices look at an issue,” she says. Opponents of Prop. 8 released a list of signers that includes Whitman and former Palm Springs Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, who lost her bid for re-election in November.

Another highly anticipated brief that could make an impact by blurring ideological lines will be signed by corporate titans, including Facebook, Apple and Cisco.

Gay rights groups are also urging the Obama administration to file its own legal brief opposing Prop. 8. But the case does not involve a federal law, so conservative legal scholar John Eastman of Chapman Law School and the National Organization for Marriage thinks the Administration should stay out of it.

“The president has claimed that this is an issue that ought to be left to up to the states,” Prof. Eastman said. “And if he is intent on honoring that pledge then he should allow the people of California to have a different course than say the people of Massachusetts.”

He then added he never really believed the president when he said that.

UC Hastings Law Professor Rory Little understands the symbolism of the president supporting gay marriage in this case before the high court. But he thinks it might look too political, undermining the administration’s credibility.

“They have never been involved in [the] Proposition 8 case up to this point,” Little notes. “So there would be some oddity for them to come in at this point and file.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case next month.

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