Poll finds half oppose law allowing civil unions

CARSON CITY -- Democrats and independents back efforts in the Legislature to allow same- and opposite-sex domestic partnerships. But because of the overwhelming Republican opposition, Nevadans overall reject such civil unions by a 12 percentage point margin, according to a poll conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The poll, which did not gather opinions about gay marriage itself, found 38 percent of Nevadans favor domestic partner legislation, while 50 percent oppose it and the remainder are undecided.

Democrats back the plan, incorporated in Senate Bill 283, by a 46 percent to 36 percent margin, while independents support it 47 percent to 42 percent.

But Republicans oppose the proposal by a 71 percent to 23 percent margin, more than offsetting the Democrat and independent support.

Sen. David Parks, the sponsor of the bill, said the results do not conform with other polls he has seen, particularly one by Newsweek magazine.

In December, Newsweek reported its national poll found 55 percent of Americans favor legally sanctioned civil union, or domestic partnerships, while 36 percent oppose them.

Parks, D-Las Vegas, said the Review-Journal pollsters might have found more negative voters because they did not poll younger voters who have only cell phones. These voters cannot be reached by pollsters using telephone directories, he said.

But Brad Coker, the managing partner of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., insisted his staff took steps to ensure the results contained a proper number of younger voters.

"I don't think that is the issue," Coker said about Parks' analysis. "I just think it is the number of Republicans rejecting it."

Mason-Dixon, which conducted the survey, interviewed 625 registered voters by telephone on May 12 through Thursday.

Steps were taken to ensure the numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independents interviewed reflect their percentage breakdown of registered voters.

The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Poll or no poll, the bill to let couples go to the secretary of state's office, pay a fee and get a domestic partnership contract is headed to Gov. Jim Gibbons by the end of the week.

The Senate only has to agree to minor amendment to the bill, which has passed both houses, before Gibbons receives it.

Under the bill, couples with domestic partnership contracts legally would be entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples.

Gibbons said he will veto the bill because same-sex couples already can secure inheritance, hospital visitation and other rights that married couples have through private contracts.

"There are alternative ways of achieving what they want," Gibbons said, mentioning durable powers of attorney as one.

While some attorneys might try to charge people large fees for these contracts, Gibbons said online forms also are available for little or no cost.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said he opposes SB283 because it is contrary to the wishes of voters who overwhelmingly approved the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment in 2002.

While the bill specifies domestic partnerships are not marriages, Cobb said he believes voters who passed the amendment thought they were blocking domestic partnerships and to pass the bill would be contrary to their wishes.

During a hearing on the bill, Las Vegas resident Richard Ziser, who led the petition drive that ended with the Protection of Marriage amendment, said he might circulate a new petition to prohibit domestic partnerships and civil unions, if SB283 becomes law.

Parks, for now, needs to pick up a couple of votes in each house to override a veto.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.