A new poll from Brigham Young University actually has good news for those advocating for legal rights for the LGBT community, since it finds that a full 71 percent of Utah voters support some kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples. However, the poll’s packaging in the Mormon-affiliated Deseret News — with a headline proclaiming that a “majority of Utahns oppose gay marriage” — puts a subtle anti-equality spin on the positive results.
Since President Obama first announced his public support for same-sex marriage, dozens of polls have attempted to quantify the shifts in opinions about same-sex marriage among the American public. However, any poll can be structured and framed in a way that lends bias to the results, just as a recent Fox News poll claimed that the majority of Americans opposed gay marriage despite other polling that suggested the opposite. That Fox poll and this BYU poll used the same framing to reach similar conclusions about widespread opposition to gay marriage, even though the characterization of those who support for civil unions as those who oppose marriage equality is misleading at best.
Both the Fox News and the BYU polls asked questions in the same way that a recent CBS/New York Times poll did, forcing a choice between same-sex marriage, legal unions not called marriage, or no legal recognition for same-sex couples. However, without giving respondents the option to communicate support for both marriage and civil unions — support which often overlaps, as demonstrated by polling in Colorado that found 53 of respondents were in favor of marriage as well as civil unions — polling results are left with an incomplete picture. Similarly, forcing a choice between same-sex marriage and no legal recognition, with no civil union compromise, also provides a fuller picture of where voters stand.
The Deseret News does do a good job of noting Utah voters’ strong support for civil unions, pointing out that the BYU poll suggests Utah voters support civil unions in greater numbers than the general population does. That being the case, it simply doesn’t make sense to frame Utah as anti-equality, claiming that “72 percent of Utah voters oppose gay marriage.” Reporting on poll questions in this way is misleading, and obscures the push toward greater support for the LGBT community — including within conservative communities such as BYU — that is evident across the United States.