What do voters think about Amendment One?

Polling is not an exact science, and no doubt, the results can be skewed by the questions asked. Nonetheless, a few polls have been taken on who supports and opposes Amendment One and the results are interesting.

Public Policy Polling released a January 12th poll showing that 56% of voters plan to vote for Amendment One. This is down slightly from the numbers that favored passage in the fall.

In that same poll, 57% of voters said they favored some form of legal recognition for same sex couples, compared to 40% against.

On the Equalitync.org website, there is a discussion of the data, saying that opposition to the Amendment is growing, but truth be told, there is still a large segment of the population (based on polling) that supports the amendment.

There is a good November 9, 2011 article by Rob Schofield at http://www.ncpolicywatch.com entitled “The Truth behind conflicting marriage amendment polls”. This article compares the results of an Elon University poll and the earlier Public Policy Polling poll that were done in November 2011. The take of this author is that the wide variances in the two polls has something to do with how the questions were asked.

The Public Policy Polling poll asked the question the way the drafters of the bill hoped that it would be considered by voters. It simply used the language of the bill and asked for a yes, no, or not sure reaction. In other words, it simply asked whether the person would vote for or against a constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid in this State. Using this approach, the results were 59% for, 35% against and 6% not sure.

The Elon Universtiy poll, which was taken a few days earlier, tried to find out a little more about what voters think about same sex couples. It asked them to state which of the following three statements came closest to their position on the issue (and here are the results):

1. Oppose any legal recognition for same sex couple………34.5%
2. Support civil unions or partnerships for same sex
couples but not full rights…………………………26.4%
3. Full marriage rigths for same sex couples…………….33%

The Elon University poll then asked whether the voter supported or opposed an amendment to the Constitition to prevent same sex marriage, but it asked for strong or regular support or opposition, not just for or against. Here are the results:

Strongly oppose..32.1%
Strongly support.21.8%

The opponents of the amenedment, collectively, were at 57%, and the supporters were at around 36%.

So, as the author of the article appropriately asked, when comparing the results of two diametrically opposed polling results: “How can this be?” He wondered whether half the State had gone on vacation all at once between the time the two polls were taken, because it would have generated a margin of error of 40% and a complete change in the data of who supports the amendment.

The conclusion of the author was that when the question about same sex marriage and the rights of same sex couples is “teased out a little more fully”, as was done in the Elon University poll, “a different general attitude quickly emerges”.

It seems that voters in North Carolina are not as staunchly determined as the drafters of the amendment to deny the gay and lesbian community of all rights, just because of their sexual preferences. Yet, the language of the amendment doesn’t just prohibit same sex marriage, it provides that the marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only domestic legal union that is valid in the State.

When asked to think about marriage compared to possible other civil unions, voters polled in the Elon University poll did not agree that marriage should be the exclusive form of a union between two people. 26.4% thought that civil unions were a good idea, even though they did not support full marriage rights, while another 33% did support full marriage rights for same sex couples. Hence, the distinction in the two polls.

This exercise reminds me of what I was taught in law school, and by the way, I am sure there were many lawyers who helped draft the proposed amendment language. Lawyers are taught never to ask a question on cross-examination unless they think they know how it will be answered by the witness and to frame questions in a way that invites a “yes” answer. Further, lawyers sometimes will layer on some additional verbiage in a question to a witness in the hope that that the witness will answer yes, without fully understanding the significance of the question. Some call this good lawyering, while others call it lawyer tricks.

So, are there lawyer tricks being played with the language of Amendment One? On the one hand, the ballot does seem to pose a simple question. On the other hand, it would appear that the “game is a foot”, as Sherlock Holmes would say. The magic of the drafters of the amendment seems to lie in whether the question is so simple that it will take the eyes of the voters off what may be the trick itself.

I surmise that people will generally understand that they are being asked whether marriage should be between one man and one woman, but that few will grasp the meaning of the phrase: “the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State”. For one thing, that language, “domestic legal union”, is not a common term in legal circles in NC and appears to be an effort by the drafters to prevent even civil unions short of marriage for the gay and lesbian community.

The author of the article ends by saying: “It’s imperative that [opponents of the amendment] make voters aware of the truth about actual language of the amendment”. Conservative groups in favor of Amendment One have called such truth telling a pack of lies. Take a look at some of the websites I have posted on the tool bar of this blog that support the amendment. These supporters of the amendment want the message to be about who should get married and call everything else in this debate a distraction. They hope to grab the golden ring — the full denial of rights for the gay and lesbian community — under the guise of asking what they hope voters will see as a simple question about marriage.

Nothing is simple about this vote. If you agree with me, please help educate your neighbors.

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