Belfast Telegraph

Slim majority in Northern Ireland supports same sex marriage law

Day 5 of our exclusive survey reveals most in favour of extending this right to our gay and lesbian couples

By Liam Clarke

A slim majority of people now believe gay marriage ceremonies should be carried out in Northern Ireland.

The province is currently the only part of the UK where the marriage of same sex couples is against the law.

In fact the Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected motions to legalise same sex marriage three times in the past 18 months.

The most recent was in April when 51 MLAs voted for the change and 43 voted against.

Now the latest results of a major Belfast Telegraph poll show that, outside Parliament Buildings, there is significant support for gay marriage.

On the fifth and final day of our series of poll results, we look at the controversial issues of abortion and same sex marriage.

On gay marriage, LucidTalk pollsters interviewed 1,089 respondents across Northern Ireland and put broadly the same proposal as the Assembly had rejected to them.

It said: "Westminster has legalised same sex marriage, although churches have a right to refuse to perform the ceremonies. Should this law be extended to Northern Ireland?"

The results show that, when the Don't Knows (DKs) are excluded, 50.5% support the idea while 49.5% oppose it. When DKs are included the figures were 40.1% for gay weddings, 39.4% against legalising them and 20.5% DKs.

This represents a major shift since we last put the question, with people coming off the fence to give a definite opinion and tending to opt for change.

The figures then were 27% for equal marriage, the term preferred by proponents, 30% against it and 43% expressing no opinion.

When that 2013 poll was taken in late August and early September equal marriage had just come onto the statute books in England and Wales, but no ceremonies were actually carried out until March of this year.

At the time many politicians here and in England were predicting that churches would be forced to carry out ceremonies against their beliefs because of human rights law.

This has not happened and people appear to feel more comfortable with the idea after seeing it in operation in England.

However, some who supported equal marriage expressed some misgivings against further extension of same sex family law.

'Same sex marriage – Yes, as long as they are not allowed to adopt children," one proponent said, but most offered no qualifications.

Some DKs appeared mostly concerned that churches should not be involved. "(It) should not be done in the churches," one told our pollsters.

Although opinion remains sharply divided on the issue, support is strongest amongst the young and appears to be in transition.

Even taking DKs into the figures, as they are from now on, 55.1% of 18-24 year olds supported extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

There was also a narrow majority (50.6%) amongst 25-44 year olds and support was lowest amongst the over 65, a clear majority of whom (58%) were opposed).

This indicates that, barring any adverse events, opinion will probably continue to shift in favour of the yes camp.

Men (46.6%) were more supportive than women (34.2%) with most women undecided (52.3%). The highest earning AB class were 63.4% in favour, the strongest support of any social group.

Protestants (34.6%) were more supportive than Catholics (24.3%), but higher support came from people of other religions (49.7%) or none (51.6%).

Gavin Boyd, legal officer of the Rainbow Project, a gay advocacy group, pointed to growing support amongst the young. He predicted: "Support for marriage equality will not go away; it will only continue to grow."

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