The results mirror a dramatic and rapid shift in national public opinion about gay rights in recent years. The evolving public opinion could create a challenge in the key political battleground for the commonwealth’s Republicans, who are almost universally opposed to gay marriage, if voters think the GOP is falling out of sync with the electorate. But the results also present complications for Virginia Democrats, who have moved more slowly than their national counterparts to embrace liberal social stands for fear of alienating independent voters.
In 2006, 57 percent of voters agreed that Virginia should add language to the state constitution prohibiting marriage — or any approximation of the institution, including civil unions — between same-sex couples.
Changing the constitution in Virginia is cumbersome, requiring two votes by the General Assembly and a statewide referendum. The legislature, which overwhelmingly agreed to send the issue to voters in 2006, has shown no appetite to explore repealing it since.
Poll results are unlikely to prompt repeal, said advocates on both sides of the issue.
Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a spokeswoman for the gay rights group Equality Virginia, said the political establishment’s views lag behind those of the public on the issue. “We knew that public opinion was evolving,” she said of opposition to the 2006 vote. “You end up leaving us in a posture where the public has moved and the policymakers haven’t and won’t.”
Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, countered that Virginians speak more clearly at the ballot box than in polls.
“Typically, people elect the officials they want to implement the policy they believe in,” she said, noting that despite shifting poll results, voters in 31 states have agreed to prohibit same-sex marriage.
The views contrast with those on another hot-button social issue: abortion. Opinions on abortion in Virginia have remained similar in recent years. Fifty-three percent of Virginians say abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 40 percent say it should be illegal in all or most instances.
No matter where Virginians come down on gay marriage this year, views on the subject tend to be strongly held: About two-thirds of Virginians feel “strongly” on one side or the other. About 30 percent of all Virginians “strongly” support gay marriage, and 35 percent oppose it just as adamantly.
The Post poll numbers on gay marriage also reflect a big age gap, with broad support of gay rights among young adults potentially shaping policy on the issue for years to come.