Bucking the national trend, a majority of Kentuckians continues to oppose same-sex marriage, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll.
Fifty-seven percent of registered voters told pollsters they opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry in Kentucky, up slightly from two Bluegrass Polls last year. Thirty-three percent favored it, down slightly from last year, and 10 percent were not sure.
These results come as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments April 28 in lawsuits challenging same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky and three other states.
Kentucky is now in the minority. Nearly three-fourths of Americans live in one of 37 states that recognize a constitutional right to marriage between partners of either sex, including West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois. According to the most recent nationwide Gallup Poll on the topic, conducted in May, 55 percent of Americans thought same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid, while 42 percent did not.
"Because of the message promoted by the media and Hollywood, one would expect more and more people to grow comfortable with gay marriage, and that may be what's happening in other places. But Kentuckians are a principled people, I'm proud to say," said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which supports the state's ban on gay marriage.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention in recent years has been cutting ties with those it views as becoming too gay-friendly, such as a Louisville church that performed same-sex marriages and the president of Sunrise Children's Services, who asked to open the center's hiring to gays.
"From the point of view of Kentucky Baptists, there is no disdain or hate toward people who practice an alternative lifestyle," Chitwood said. "We're all sinners. But we do not feel that it's appropriate for the church — or for the state — to condone sin."
Roy Harrison, a member of the board of the gay-rights group Lexington Fairness, said he was reassured by studying the details of the Bluegrass Poll results.
Generally, younger Kentuckians are far more supportive of same-sex marriage than older Kentuckians, Harrison noted. Exactly half of the voters ages 18 to 34 favored equal marriage rights, compared to 26 percent of those 65 and older. Likewise, he said, the strongest support can be found among the best-educated Kentuckians (those with college degrees) and people living in the faster-growing urban areas.
"I see where the trend is headed and I'm comfortable with it," Harrison said.
In 2004, he said, 75 percent of Kentucky voters backed a state constitutional amendment — now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court — defining marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.
"So now the opposition is under 60 percent," Harrison said. "I think we're going to get a pro-gay marriage decision from the Supreme Court this summer, and then people will see the sky is not falling, and we'll move on from there. I'm optimistic about the future."
The Bluegrass Poll, conducted March 3 to 8 by SurveyUSA and sponsored by the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and the Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, asked 1,917 registered voters whether they favored or opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry in Kentucky. The margin of error on that question was plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
Diana Johnson, 59, of Pineville, was one of the respondents who said she opposed gay marriage. But in a follow-up interview Thursday, Johnson said she could live with a Supreme Court ruling that ordered Kentucky to recognize such marriages.
"Being brought up in a Baptist church — my father was a pastor — it's the morals and all that, for me," Johnson said. "That's my own personal feeling. Anyone else who has their own opinions, that's their right."
Dayton Heffelfinger, 63, of Owensboro told the Bluegrass Poll he favored the right to same-sex marriage.
"Folks are entitled to be with the people they love," Heffelfinger said Thursday in a follow-up interview.
"The people who oppose (gay marriage) sort of brought all of this on themselves when they tried to keep same-sex partners out of each other's intensive care units at the hospital and that sort of family situation," he added. "We probably could have settled this somewhere in the middle with something like civil unions that provide the same legal rights. But the opponents didn't want to be reasonable and give any ground, so here we are."