By 54 percent to 39 percent, 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 heard arguments last 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 percent to 39 percent split in favor of federal benefits for same-sex couples generally mirrors Americans’ support for gay marriage more generally, with 53 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed in Gallup’s most recent update, from last November. At the time the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996, 27 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriage and 68 percent 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 percent 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 percent disagreed and said “the government should distinguish between them.” In July 2011, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 59 percent 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 percent believed it should.
Earlier this month, Gallup found support more evenly divided – 48 percent for and 49 percent 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.