In advance of Steadman bill, surveys show strong support in Colorado for civil unions

As state Senator Pat Steadman gets set to introduce his civil unions legislation in Denver next week, new public opinion poll results bolster the case for the bill. The results of a Public Policy Polling survey (pdf) conducted this past weekend match almost exactly results of a survey conducted last January by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint. More than 70 percent of Coloradans support legally recognized domestic partnerships, including those between same-sex couples.

Sen. Pat Steadman

Tacked on to the end of a survey designed to generally take the pulse of Colorado right-left politics, PPP pollster Tom Jensen asked for opinions on gay marriage. He found that 40 percent of Coloradans thought gay couples should be allowed to marry and 32 percent who said they should be allowed to form equal-under-the-law civil unions. Only 25 percent opposed recognizing gay relationships.

From the poll:

Q8 Which of the following best describes your opinion on gay marriage: gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, or there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship?

Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry……40%
Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry……32%
There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship……25%
Not sure ……3%

PPP’s poll has been greeted with some skepticism in the blogosphere for seeming to over-sample Democratic voters. But PPP’s Dustin Ingalls told the Colorado Independent that the group’s pollsters asked respondents to say who they voted for in the presidential election of 2008 and that the percentages of Democrat, Republican and independent voters responding to the survey reflect 2008 voting in Colorado. “We believe 2008 is a more accurate picture than 2010 of how Colorado voters are likely to break down in 2012,” he said. “2010 of course was an historic Republican swing year.”

Last year two national polling firms, Greenberg Quinlan Rossner and American Viewpoint, commissioned by OneColorado to specifically explore attitudes toward gay rights in the state, found even greater support for civil unions. The firms asked five multi-part questions and found 74 percent of Coloradans in favor of civil unions. Those percentages climbed into the mid- and high-80 percents when participants were asked whether or not they supported granting specific related legal rights to gay couples– everyday rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, such as visiting a partner in the hospital, taking medical leave, making end-of-life decisions and inheriting property.

Greenberg polled 1006 Coloradans. See the survey and questions at the attached pdf.

Colorado voted to ban gay marriage with Amendment 43 passed in 2006. Yet OneColorado Director Brad Clark, who ran a branch of the same organization in Iowa, told the Colorado Independent last summer that more general support for civil unions matches with the “western live-and-let-live ethos” here that values basic fairness for all. He added, however, that that same ethos can also present a challenge where protecting or winning minority rights depends on the majority taking action.

“People are much more outspoken here than in the Midwest about the fact that their rights matter…. That live-and-let-live quality, that libertarian ethos, is good on one hand but that doesn’t always work where fairness and equality are concerned. Our friends and neighbors need to feel some connection to us. We have to be willing to stand up for each other.”

As the Colorado Independent reported in 2009, voting statistics geek Nate Silver of set up a model based on trends in 30 states to predict when voters might likely overturn gay marriage bans. According to his analysis, opponents of the gay marriage ban in Colorado would stand a very strong chance of repealing it in the 2012 election cycle.

Steadman and his bill drafter are reportedly working their way through the voluminous state statutes looking to include in the civil unions bill a comprehensive list of the rights and responsibilities related to marriage in Colorado. Steadman has said he will ask lawmakers who object to the bill to select which rights and responsibilities they believe domestic partners should be denied.

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