Lawmakers in New Zealand and France are expected to vote in the coming weeks in favor of laws changing the marriage status quo to legalize those between partners of the same sex.
In both countries, polls have long shown a sizeable majority backing for same-sex marriage. But in both, that support appears to be eroding as the reality draws nearer.
New Zealand’s parliament in a 77-44 vote on March 13 passed the second reading of the Marriage Amendment Bill. The third and final reading is expected to be little more than a formality.
But the country’s largest daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, reported Tuesday on the results of a new survey by the DigiPoll company showing a 7.5 percent jump since last June in the number of respondents saying marriage should remain between a man and a woman, a position now enjoying 48 percent support.
Meanwhile, the number of those supporting a change of law to allow same-sex marriage dropped by four percentage points, to 49.6 percent, the Herald said in a front-page story headlined “Gay marriage shock.” The 1.6 point difference is well within the poll’s 3.6 percent margin of error.
The shift in opinion coincides roughly with the period since the same-sex marriage bill was first introduced in parliament last July – a period that has witnessed passionate campaigning on both sides of the issue.
The swing is even more marked if compared to a Herald-DigiPoll survey in December – a little over halfway through that period – which found 59 percent in favor of same-sex marriage and 38 percent opposed. So in just three months, support for same-sex marriage has dropped by 10 points while opposition has risen by the same amount.
Louisa Wall, a Labor lawmaker who introduced the bill last July – and at the time invoked President Obama’s public endorsement of same-sex marriage two months earlier – put a brave face on the latest poll.
She noted that the pro- group of respondents was still larger, “despite the opposition spending what seems vast amounts of money on an active and negative campaign built on fear and misinformation.”
Family First, a lobby group leading opposition to the law change, argued that the poll result “proves that 70-80 politicians have no mandate to change the longstanding definition of marriage.”
“As the debate on redefining marriage has heated up, the support for changing the definition of marriage has steadily dropped,” said the group’s director, Bob McCoskrie, citing two other polls showing similar patterns.
“We have finally got past the slogans of ‘marriage equality’ and ‘discrimination’ and the debate is now centered around facts, such as the real purpose and role of marriage, and the fact that there is actually no discrimination in the law currently,” he said.
Under its “civil union” law, New Zealand has since 2005 granted same-sex couples, as well as unmarried heterosexual couples, rights covering property, welfare, immigration and other areas equal to those enjoyed by married couples.
Same-sex marriage advocates like the Campaign for Marriage Equality say that is not enough, citing adoption restrictions and the lack of recognition of civil unions abroad, and arguing that having “separate regimes for people with different sexual orientations” is discriminatory.
Meanwhile in France, the lower house of parliament last month passed Bill 344 (“Opening marriage to same-sex couples”) by a 329-229 vote and the Senate will consider it next week.
Passage is widely anticipated: Both French houses are dominated by the Socialist Party of President Francois Hollande and its allies. Hollande included support for same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption of children in his election manifesto.
Like New Zealand, France has seen an apparent shift away from support for same-sex marriage, prompting the Associated Press to report on Sunday that “polls indicate a shrinking majority of French voters back gay marriage.” (In its report the same day the New York Times said French polling suggested “a solid majority” in favor.)
Last January, a French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) poll found 63 percent of French respondents in favor of a change in the marriage law, while 49 percent supported adoption rights for same-sex couples.
(Although reporting on that poll highlighted the fact support had increased from 60 percent a month earlier, as recently as last October the same pollsters found 65 percent support for same-sex marriage.)
A conservative lobby opposing the law change, Alliance Vita, points out that although Bill 344 opens the door to adoptions for same-sex married couples, most opinion polling has separated the two issues, producing misleading results.
It therefore commissioned its own IFOP poll last month, and it found that when coupled to adoption rights, support for same-sex marriage dropped to just 39 percent.
In a follow-up IFOP poll for Alliance Vita this week, it had dropped still further, to 37 percent.
Opposition to the law change in France has seen hundreds of thousands of protestors take to the streets of Paris – around 340,000 according to police estimates last January when the bill was about to go before the lower house, and an officially-estimated 300,000 again on Sunday. (Organizers estimated a turnout of more than 1.2 million on Sunday.)
Opponents argue that the law change will put at risk the institution of the family and the right of children to have a mother and a father. They want Hollande to put the issue to a referendum.