A San Francisco-based foundation released a study Tuesday that shows that voters nationwide don't change their minds during the course of an election campaign on whether to approve a ban on same-sex marriage.
Patrick Egan, an assistant professor of political science at New
York University, said the study looked at whether ballot measure campaigns "change voters' hearts and minds in a particular direction."
"That just doesn't happen," Egan said.
The new study was released on the eve of today's nonjury trial on a lawsuit in which two couples contend that Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban enacted by California voters in 2008, is unconstitutional. The daylong hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for today in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker.
The trial is the nation's first on a U.S. constitutional challenge to a prohibition on gay marriage. Walker heard two and a half weeks of testimony in January.
The new study was commissioned by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a private foundation that has among its goals the advancement of gay and lesbian rights. It examined more than 100 polls taken in the six months before votes on ballot measures on same-sex marriage and domestic partnership in 32 states between 1998 and 2009. In most of the elections, including one on California's Proposition 8 in 2008, voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage.
Political science professor Egan said: "This report indicates that neither advocates nor opponents (of same-sex marriage) tended to gain support in any consistent fashion during these campaigns, despite the millions of dollars spent by both sides over the past decade."
Representatives of gay rights groups said the lesson they draw from the study is that an attempt to influence citizens to support same-sex marriage needs to begin well before an election campaign.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based
National Center of Lesbian Rights, said, "Clearly, the time to change hearts, minds and votes to support equality is before a campaign starts."
Egan said a second finding of the study is that polls consistently underestimate by about 3 points the number of people who will vote in support of a ban on same-sex marriage.
In advance of today's federal court hearing, The federal judge Walker issued a list of 39 wide-ranging questions to be answered in closing arguments.
The queries posed by Walker cover all sides and angles of the case on topics ranging from voter intent and the role of churches in the 2008 election campaign to the definition and purpose of marriage.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are asked to answer, "What is the import of evidence showing that marriage has been historically limited to a man and a woman?"
On the other side, the judge asked the sponsors of Proposition 8, "What evidence in the record shows that same-sex marriage is a drastic or far-reaching change to the institution of marriage?"
Both sides were asked, "What purpose does a law requiring that a marital partnership consist of one man and one woman serve?"
The list of questions has a dozen for each side and 15 more queries for both sides.
The plaintiffs are asked what the significance would be if the trial evidence shows that Mormon, Roman Catholic and evangelical churches participated in the Proposition 8 election campaign in "an attempt to enforce private morality."
The defenders of Proposition 8 are asked, "Why is legislating based on moral disapproval of homosexuality not tantamount to discrimination?"
Walker's decision in the case is expected to be issued in writing sometime after the closing arguments. The case is certain to be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.