PRINCETON, NJ -- By 54% to 39%, Americans say they would vote for a law giving marriage benefits, such as those for insurance, taxes, or Social Security, to spouses of federal employees in same-sex marriages. Support is predictably higher among Democrats than it is among Republicans.
The proposal addresses a provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denies benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a challenge to the law next week, brought by a New York woman who was required to pay a heavy estate tax after her same-sex spouse died. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law but now favors its repeal, as does President Barack Obama. Republicans in Congress support the law and are involved in arguing the government's side in the lawsuit.
The 54% to 39% split in favor of federal benefits for same-sex couples generally mirrors Americans' support for gay marriage more generally, with 53% in favor and 46% opposed in Gallup's most recent update, from last November. At the time the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996, 27% of Americans favored same-sex marriage and 68% were opposed.
Past surveys by other firms asking about federal benefits for same-sex couples have also shown support above the majority level, although the level of support has varied, perhaps due to question wording. For example, an AP-National Constitution Center poll from August 2012 found 63% of Americans saying couples of the same sex should be "entitled to the same government benefits as married couples of the opposite sex," while 32% disagreed and said "the government should distinguish between them." In July 2011, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 59% of Americans saying the federal law that denies eligibility for federal benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages "should not remain in existence," while 35% believed it should.
Earlier this month, Gallup found support more evenly divided -- 48% for and 49% against -- in response to a question asking about a law that "would require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages the same as marriages between a man and a women for all federal purposes, including insurance, tax benefits, and Social Security benefits." Perhaps describing the law as a "federal requirement" lessened support for the basic proposal.
Thus, though broadly supportive of gay marriage and gay rights, Americans' estimated level of support could be susceptible to subtle differences in how proposals are described.
The Supreme Court may decide to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex spouses when it renders its judgment in the case, and polling suggests Americans would probably support such an action. Americans' views on gay marriage have changed dramatically since the law was signed in 1996, with a majority now generally supportive. And with younger Americans much more likely than older Americans to favor legal same-sex marriage, support for gay marriage overall will likely only increase in future years.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 11-12, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.