Opposition to legalizing gay marriage in Nevada appears to have thawed somewhat in the years since voters approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
A 2002 poll showed 60 percent of Nevadans supported a ban on gay marriage and 36 percent opposed the ban. Also that year, two-thirds of Nevadans approved the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment.
But a new poll, commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow and conducted after a federal judge struck down California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages, shows 46 percent of Nevadans now oppose legalizing gay marriage in the state. Thirty-five percent said they support legalizing gay marriage, and 19 percent were undecided.
The telephone poll of 625 registered Nevada voters was conducted Monday through Wednesday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
While opposition still outweighs support for legalizing gay marriage, Candice Nichols, executive director of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, took the poll results as a positive sign.
"We're seeing the climate changing," she said. "It's going to take time, but there's been a shift and it will keep going forward."
What's happening in California may be having an effect on people's attitudes, she said.
"They're thinking 'How can we discriminate against this one group?'" she said. "It's unconstitutional."
But Richard Ziser, a longtime local conservative activist and supporter of the 2002 amendment, said the poll results are more likely just a reaction to the gay marriage issue being on the back burner for now.
"The economy and jobs are what people are concerned about right now," he said. "If we were out there talking about it and having it out in front, our numbers would pick up again."
A May 2009 poll found 50 percent of Nevadans were opposed to changing state law to recognize domestic partnerships between unmarried same- and opposite-sex couples. Thirty-eight percent were in favor of domestic partner legislation.
Later that year, a Nevada law went into effect that gives those who register as domestic partners many of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. Those rights include the ability to make health care decisions for each other, have community property and assume parentage for children. Debt and property are shared.
The law specifies that domestic partners are not considered married and does not affect federal law. That means a person cannot claim a partner as a spouse to file joint income tax returns or secure Social Security benefits of a deceased partner.
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, said voters are so concerned with the economy right now "they don't get worked up as much about social issues." While more Nevada voters still oppose legalizing gay marriage, "I just don't see the rabid opposition that existed five or 10 years ago," he said.
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.