Gay marriage: Northern Irish opinion poll shows wide generation gap
Day 4 of our exclusive poll reveals young and old are divided on the issue of same-sex marriage
A low proportion of younger voters, just under a fifth (21.5%), are opposed to legal same sex marriage being extended to Northern Ireland on the same basis as in Britain.
Our exclusive poll shows a narrow majority of those expressing any opinion would vote against the measure, but also that opposition is concentrated in the older age bracket and four out of 10 people (42%) have yet to make their minds up.
Although opinion is still split down the middle on the issue, same sex marriage campaigners will take comfort from the closeness of the margin, the high number of undecideds and the strength of support among the young.
Extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples is one of the most vexed issues in Northern Ireland.
The DUP is the party most strongly opposed to it of any Executive party. Sinn Fein is in favour, as is Alliance, and both the UUP and SDLP allow a free vote.
When a vote was taken on the issue in May, MLAs voted against it by a margin of 53-42, but the DUP raised a petition of concern that would have allowed them to block it even if it had been passed by MLAs.
A month later the Assembly voted on the issue once more and agreed not to extend the UK legislation here.
There is some worry that having different family law than the rest of the UK could lead to legal challenges.
Homosexuality was only legalised in Northern Ireland in 1982 following a legal challenge taken by Jeff Dudgeon, now a UUP negotiator at the Haass talks.
The issue is one pointer that opinion amongst legislators at Stormont may lag behind the views of the wider population, especially the young.
Gerry Lynch of LucidTalk said: "The generation gap on this question is one of the widest I have ever seen.
"While two-thirds of under 25s support marriage equality, over three-quarters of over 65s oppose it.
"There is a sudden and sharp difference of opinion either side of the age 45 mark."
He pointed out "those younger than 45 came of age after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland in 1982, while those older grew up in a society where same-sex relations could still be punished with imprisonment. Those deep influences are clearly visible here".
Another area where the views of some legislators at Stormont may be lagging behind public opinion is the question of political donations.
Alone among UK regions, political parties here do not have to publish the names of donors. Elsewhere, donations over £7,500 are published.
The poll showed that the majority of those who expressed an opinion (56.9%) supported publication and more than half of them thought donations under £7,500 should be revealed too.
All parties are in principle in favour of moving towards publication but the DUP and UUP do not feel the time is right yet.
The situation will be reviewed next year by the British government. But the poll shows a strong appetite amongst voters for that to happen as soon as possible.
After a poor performance rating for Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable, in yesterday's paper, the PSNI top brass will be pleased to see that the force as a whole got a mildly positive reception even if the young were not as supportive as their elders.
There was little sign of Protestant and working class alienation from the police as has sometimes been claimed.
In fact, Protestants rated it higher than Catholics on a five-point scale ranging from excellent to very bad.
Mr Lynch commented: "Older people are more supportive of the police than younger people, and given the fact that the Catholic population is younger overall than the Protestant population, this may in itself explain a significant part of the communal difference."
He added: "There is an enormous gender gap in support for the police, larger than the difference by religion, with women more supportive than men."
Swathes of voters are undecided on key issue
We told 1,222 respondents that "Westminster has legalised same sex marriages, although churches have the legal right to refuse to perform the ceremonies" and asked them "should this law be extended to Northern Ireland?"
27.1% believed it should, but 30.4% thought not. 42% were undecided – a high figure compared with many other questions but just under the number who don't vote.
The fact that four people out of 10 haven't made their mind up shows that opinion could change as new arguments come forward and as we see how same sex marriage works out in Britain.
When the undecideds are removed the figures suggest that an immediate referendum on the issue would probably go against change.
47.2% would support extending the UK law and 52.8% would oppose it.
Support is highest amongst the young, though a fair proportion has yet to make their minds up. 36% of 18-24 year olds were undecided.
If these were taken out of the equation, two-thirds of younger voters would be likely to vote for change with 34% opposing it.
Amongst over 65s a higher number are undecided, 45%, but if they are left aside 78% of pensioners currently oppose gay marriage.
There is a majority of 55% for change amongst women expressing an opinion.
In religious terms, Protestants are least likely to support change in the law.
There was stronger support for change in a Northern Ireland Life and Times survey carried out last year. 57% of their sample opted for change when asked "do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognised by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?" Only 11% expressed no opinion.
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