‘Remarkable’ shift seen in favor of gay marriage in new SIU poll

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State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinoisans have moved significantly in favor of gay marriage as a new poll released Wednesday showed a 10-percentage point increase in support for it in just two years, with more than four out of 10 voters now favoring the new legal recognition for gays and lesbians.

In its new survey, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 43.6 percent of registered voters support giving gays and lesbians the legal right to marry in Illinois.

Two years ago, only 33.6 percent surveyed by the institute favored granting that right.

“The velocity of change has been increasing over the last couple of years,” said state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the lead sponsor of legislation that would legalize gay marriages.

“People are saying, ‘We need to change our minds on this issue.’ It’s remarkable,” he said. “As you look at the Paul Simon poll, this is not people undecided on the issue. This is people who have always been a ‘no’ who are now saying, ‘I’ve rethought this, and a ‘yes’ is where I want to be.'”

The poll showed that 20.2 percent of those surveyed believed no legal recognition should be bestowed on gay or lesbian couples, which represents a drop from two years ago. In 2010, the institute found that 26.5 percent of those surveyed held that belief.

“Look at the last couple of years of popular culture, popular media. ‘Modern Family’ keeps winning Emmys. Gay characters are out. Anderson Cooper comes out to sort of a collective yawn. People are getting used to the idea. Civil unions have been legalized in Illinois to no obvious deleterious effect,” said Charles Leonard, a visiting SIU political professor who coordinates the institute’s polling.

Harris introduced legislation last February to legalize same-sex marriages in Illinois, but he put the matter on hold in April, saying big issues like pension reform, Medicaid cuts and budget matters were higher priorities facing the General Assembly.

Harris never divulged how close he was to amassing the 60 House votes necessary to pass a bill, but his roll call clearly was beneath that threshold.

Asked if there is some hope of a vote during a possible lame-duck legislative session in January given the new polling, Harris would only say, “I never say never, and I never make predictions. I think the situation is really, really fluid.”

Harris was a driving force behind the legalization of civil unions in Illinois, and that initiative passed during the January 2011 lame-duck session.

Those opposed to gay marriage in Illinois discounted the findings in the latest Simon institute poll, saying the results reflected a “push toward acceptance of the gay lifestyle” in pop culture and the media and that the issue isn’t high on the priority list for Illinois voters, who are more focused on the economy.

“It’s really not on people’s radar screens as a public-policy issue. Other issues dwarf it,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, which opposes gay marriage and fought civil unions.

In its most recent poll, the public policy research arm of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale surveyed 1,261 registered voters in Illinois between Sept. 4 and 10, and the poll has a margin of error or plus or minus 2.77 percent.

Beyond touching on the hot-button gay-marriage issue, this year’s emphasis in the university survey was on corruption and ethics in Illinois. Asked if corruption in Illinois government is “widespread,” 76.8 percent surveyed answered yes. Fifty-eight percent of those polled also said Illinois has more corruption than other states.

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