Registered Texas voters narrowly oppose same-sex marriage, but a large majority is open to allowing either marriage or civil unions to gays and lesbians, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Asked whether those couples should be allowed to marry, 42 percent say yes and 47 percent say no, the poll found. When civil unions are added to the question, voters are more permissive: 39 percent say they would allow marriage, 28 percent would allow civil unions and 25 percent say they would not allow either sort of formal bond.
“The culture war is a lot more complex than you think,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not like people have said everything should be Amsterdam. The way in which you execute it does matter. What you really find is that people are subtle. They appreciate conditions and context.”
Partisan differences show up in the poll responses. A strong majority of Democrats — 62 percent — would allow gay marriages, even with the alternative of civil unions available. Only 14 percent of Republicans would do that, but another 45 percent would allow civil unions. Voters who identify themselves as independents were closer to the Democrats on this question, with 53 percent approving of gay marriage and another 20 percent in favor of the civil unions option.
The most frequent churchgoers — those who say they attend more than one service per week — are most likely to oppose same-sex unions: 55 percent say they oppose both marriage and civil unions for those couples. A majority of other churchgoers, including those who say they attend services once a week, would allow some form of unions.
A majority of Texas registered voters would allow pregnant women to obtain abortions under certain circumstances: if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s health, if the pregnancy results from rape or incest, or if there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby.
Fewer than half would permit abortions in other circumstances: when the family has a low income and cannot afford more children, when the mother is not married and does not want to be, or when she is married and does not want any more children.
"These results suggest that most Texans, by a signifiant margin, want abortion to be an option for women facing crises like rape, incest and life-threatening circumstance related to a pregnancy," said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. "But opinion becomes much more divided, largely on a partisan basis, when the question turns to women exercising choices related to their life circumstances."
Majorities for the first three exceptions — the mother’s health, rape and incest — cross party lines. Democrats and independents would allow abortions when there is a strong suspicion of birth defects, but only 46 percent of Republicans would allow that. And while a majority of Democrats would permit pregnant women to have abortions in any of the circumstances in the poll, most Republicans and independents say they would not allow it in cases where the family cannot afford another child, when the mother does not want to marry or when a married woman does not want more children. In those three cases, a gender gap appears that is not evident in the other cases — women are more likely than men to say abortions should be allowed in those cases.
Asked to describe their position generally, 44 percent say they are “pro-life,” 39 percent say they are “pro-choice” and 12 percent say they are neither of those things.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Among 866 likely voters, the margin of error is +/- 3.33 percent. In the split sample on marriage, the margin of error is +/- 3.99 percentage points on the civil unions question and +/- 4.02 percentage points on the question about gay marriage alone. Numbers in the charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Thursday: Texans’ views on the governor’s race. Friday: Texans on the 2016 presidential primaries. Monday: Transportation and the economy. Tuesday: Texans on voter ID, immigration, the governor’s indictment and the Tea Party.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.