WASHINGTON — Americans are evenly split on whether the Supreme Court should rule that same-sex marriage must be legal nationwide, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
The poll was conducted just before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case that will likely decide whether state laws banning same-sex marriage are constitutional.
But the poll also finds that Americans are more likely to favor than oppose marriage for gay and lesbian couples being legal in their own states.
Here are five things to know about public opinion on same-sex marriage:
NEARLY HALF SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE
According to the new AP-GfK poll, nearly half of Americans favor laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed. Just over a third are opposed.
But Americans are split down the middle on what action the Supreme Court should take when it rules on the marriage case later this year, with 50 percent saying it should rule that same-sex marriage must be legal nationwide and 48 percent saying that it should not.
The poll shows a massive partisan divide on both questions. Two-thirds of Democrats and just under half of independents say they support legal same-sex marriage, compared to less than 3 in 10 Republicans.
Only 15 percent of conservative Republicans want same-sex marriages to be legal, while 46 percent of moderate Republicans say they are in favor.
SUPPORT DIPS FOR WEDDING BUSINESSES REFUSING SERVICE
The poll shows that a slim majority of Americans (52 percent) say that wedding-related businesses in states where same-sex marriage is legal should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples because of religious objections.
That’s down slightly since the beginning of February, when another AP-GfK poll found 57 percent of Americans in support of allowing wedding-related businesses to refuse service. The earlier poll was conducted before a public outcry forced the state of Indiana to add protections for gays and lesbians to its recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics charged was intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people.
That drop appears to have been driven by Democrats, 45 percent of whom supported allowing businesses to refuse service in the earlier poll, while 38 percent say so now. About three-quarters of Republicans say wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service, along with 45 percent of independents.
LESS SUPPORT FOR NON-WEDDING BUSINESSES
The new AP-GfK survey shows Americans are less likely to support allowing a non-wedding related business to refuse service to a gay or lesbian couple. Just 40 percent of poll respondents asked a similar question that did not mention weddings think businesses should be allowed to refuse service for religious reasons, while 57 percent think that should not be allowed.
Support for allowing businesses to generally refuse service to gays was at least slightly lower than for wedding-related businesses to refuse service among Democrats, Republicans and independents, although a majority of Republicans (63 percent) still said a business of any kind with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples.
RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES OVER GAY RIGHTS
Although most Americans aren’t willing to give just any business the right to refuse service to LGBT people, most say that it’s more important for the government to protect religious liberties than the rights of gays and lesbians if the two come into conflict, by a 56 percent to 40 percent margin.
More than 8 in 10 Republicans say it’s more important to protect religious liberties than gay rights. On the other hand, 6 in 10 Democrats think protecting gay rights is more important.
Just a quarter of Americans call gay rights a very or extremely important issue to them personally, while half call religious liberties a very or extremely important issue.
DIVISION OVER OBAMA’S HANDLING OF GAY RIGHTS
The poll finds that Americans are evenly divided on how President Barack Obama is handling gay rights, with 48 percent saying they approve and 49 percent saying they disapprove. A majority (54 percent) approve of how Obama is handling religious liberties.
On both issues, Democrats hold at least a slight advantage over Republicans on which party Americans trust most to handle gay rights issues. Thirty-one percent of Americans say they trust Democrats more to handle gay rights issues, while only 14 percent trust Republicans more.
But a third of Americans say they don’t trust either party to handle gay rights, with another 20 percent saying they trust both equally. On religious liberties, 28 percent say they trust Democrats more and 21 percent trust Republicans more, with 23 percent trusting both equally and 26 percent trusting neither.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.
EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press