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February 17, 2005

Two-thirds of Illinois favors rights for same-sex couples

DeKALB, IL – While about one-third of Illinois residents may welcome President Bush's recent recommitment to a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the remaining two-thirds are open to some sort of official recognition of same-sex couples.

According to the 2005 Illinois Policy Survey, conducted by Northern Illinois University , 31 percent of those surveyed supported giving gays and lesbians the right to marry, while 34 percent supported the concept of civil unions. The remaining 29 percent opposed any legal recognition of homosexual couples.

“While much of the media attention focuses on those calling to ban gay marriage, these results are pretty typical of what nationwide polls are finding. Most Americans favor some sort of formal recognition of gay and lesbian couples,” said Barbara Burrell, associate director of the NIU Public Opinion Laboratory which conducted the survey in November and December of last year. The survey, now in its 21 st year, is a joint effort of the NIU's Center for Governmental Studies and the Public Opinion Laboratory. It was comprised of responses from 1,309 adults across Illinois and has a confidence interval of +/- 3 percent.

The level of support for legal recognition of gay couples varied somewhat by across the state, but dropped below 50 percent in only two of six regions -- southern Illinois at 44 percent and northern Illinois (exclusive of Chicago, its suburbs and the collar counties) at 47 percent.

Other demographics seemed to play a larger role, particularly age. Legal recognition was supported by 76 percent of those age 24 or younger, but only 48 percent of those over the age of 65. Only 45 percent of black and 53 percent of Asian respondents favored legal recognition, as compared to 67 percent of respondents who identified themselves as white, and 70 percent of Hispanics..

Political allegiance was also a major differentiating factor: 76 percent of those who voted for John Kerry favored some sort of legal recognition for gays, versus 51 percent of those who voted for George Bush.

“The most interesting thing about those numbers is that a majority of Bush supporters, albeit barely so, seem to favor some sort of legal recognition of gay unions,” said Michael Peddle, a professor of public administration at NIU who directed the survey along with Burrell “It's an indication that the post election analysis that ‘values' carried the day for Bush in the election was off the mark.”

According to Peddle, anecdotal information indicates that there is also a great deal of confusion over exactly what rights marriage or civil unions might provide for gay couples.

“There appears to be great ambiguity and difference of opinion as to the actual differences between gay marriage and civil union recognition,” Peddle said. “Many people who support the same set of rights for gay /lesbian couples in some cases were calling those rights marriage rights while other persons attribute those rights to civil unions.”

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A complete copy of the 2005 Report on the Illinois Policy Survey can be found online at http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/presskits/ips2005/index.html . That site also includes an explanation of the survey methodology and sampling error, as well as news releases related to other topics in the report.