Marylanders Lean Left on Gay Marriage, Death Penalty

By John Wagner and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 26, 2007

More than half of Marylanders would prefer that convicted murderers get life in prison rather than the death penalty, and nearly six in 10 support allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The findings place Maryland somewhat to the left of the country as a whole on two social issues likely to be heavily debated when the General Assembly reconvenes in January for its annual 90-day session.

Death penalty opponents, who count Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) among their ranks, are gearing up for another attempt to abolish capital punishment. And supporters of gay marriage have vowed to turn to the legislature after a court ruling last month that upheld Maryland's 34-year-old law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

In the new poll, nearly six in 10, or 57 percent, support civil unions, up significantly from nearly four years ago, when 44 percent were in favor. Meanwhile, 51 percent continue to oppose granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The poll found the state mirroring national opinion on the presidential primaries. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) lead the races for their party's presidential nomination.

Overall, Marylanders hold nuanced views on both the death penalty and same-sex partnerships.

Sixty percent said they support the death penalty for people convicted of murder, and 35 percent said they oppose it. Those numbers are generally consistent with recent national polls on the issue. But when asked whether they prefer the death penalty or life without parole as a punishment, 52 percent said they favor life imprisonment and 43 percent said capital punishment.

In a Post-ABC News national poll last year, given the choice, 50 percent preferred the death penalty and 46 percent preferred life without parole.

Many Marylanders have views about the death penalty similar to those of Carla Hosford of Chevy Chase. She said she came to support the death penalty when the Washington region was gripped in fear during the sniper shootings of 2002.

"I was so terrified," said Hosford, a former social worker and psychotherapist. "I would have killed him myself if I could. We lived it day to day, hour to hour."

But Hosford said she would prefer a life sentence over death. "If we kill and they kill, who has learned anything?" she asked.

The new Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 18 through 22 among a random sample of 1,103 Maryland adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company