Democratic convention delegates generally are more open to the prospect of gay marriage than are John Kerry and John Edwards, their presumed nominees for the presidential ticket.
An Associated Press survey of Democratic National Convention delegates found that roughly 41 percent said they favored marriage for same-sex couples, while about 21 percent opposed it. Most of the remaining delegates said their position didn’t fit into a “favor” or “oppose” response, or refused to answer the question.
Kerry and Edwards oppose gay marriage itself but also are against a constitutional ban on same-sex nuptials, wanting to allow states to decide the issue. Kerry backs civil unions, which would give same-sex partners the same rights as married couples without wedding.
President Bush, like Kerry, opposes gay marriage. Unlike the Massachusetts senator, the incumbent Republican supported the constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage that failed in the Senate last week.
“John Kerry and George Bush are both against gay marriage,” said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. “The disagreement is about letting discrimination into the U.S. Constitution.”
Overall, delegates’ opinions on gay marriage run contrary to public opinion polls. For instance, a Pew poll in March found that those who opposed gay marriage outnumbered those in favor by a 2-to-1 margin.
Convention delegates typically come from the most loyal and activist wing of a political party. Democratic officials say gays will be represented in record numbers on the convention floor, boosted by delegate recruiting efforts in some states.
“For a group of Democratic Party activists which tends to be more liberal than the general population and even rank-and-file Democrats — it’s not totally surprising,” said Paul Watanabe, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The city plays host to the convention starting Monday.
The AP surveyed more than 3,100 delegates, or nearly three-quarters of the 4,300-plus who will attend the convention. The results revealed differences along some geographic and racial lines.
About 80 percent of the delegation from Massachusetts — its highest court has ruled that gay couples should be allowed full, equal marriage rights — favored gay marriage. About 61 percent of California’s delegates shared the same view, along with some 45 percent of New York’s delegation.
But delegates from Southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi tended to oppose gay marriage.
Those differences mirrored results from a Pew Research Center poll conducted in January that found Southern Democrats opposed gay marriage by a margin of 65 percent to 26 percent, while Democrats outside the South favored it, 51 percent to 42 percent.
Meanwhile, some 39 percent of black delegates nationwide opposed gay marriage, compared to about 24 percent in favor. Among whites or Hispanics, a majority in each group favored same-sex nuptials.
A Pew poll released in November found that 60 percent of blacks opposed gay marriage. And exit polling conducted after primaries March 10 in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas found that over half of black voters opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Lula Gray, 69, a black delegate from Pine Bluff, Ark., opposes gay marriage but is against a constitutional amendment that would regulate it.
Still, Gray says she thinks Republicans have raised the gay marriage issue as a “smoke screen to get out of the war, the economy and other issues.”
“We have other problems,” she says.
While blacks’ position on gay marriage may be more conservative, the issue likely won’t keep them from the polls in November, says Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
“It won’t be a problem at all ... it’s not a voting issue,” Black says.