Fifty percent of registered Virginia voters support same-sex marriage, compared to 43 percent who don't, with a clear majority of women approving it, a new poll has found.
The same Quinnipiac University poll also found the governor's race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli remains tight, with McAuliffe holding a slight lead thanks largely to the support of female voters.
The Connecticut-based university interviewed 1,030 registered Virginia voters from July 11-15. The poll's results, released Thursday morning, have a margin of sampling error that is plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.
The contentious issue of gay marriage becomes more relevant in Virginia after last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in two cases. The court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied tax, health and pension benefits to single-gender couples. The high court also upheld a lower court decision voiding California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.
That puts the determination of whether to allow same-sex couples to marry in 50 state capitals, not Washington.
In the 2006 general election, an amendment to the state Constitution that bans gay marriage in Virginia passed 57 percent to 43 percent. Since the Supreme Court rulings, gay rights organizations such as Equality Virginia have begun preparing long-term efforts aimed at eventually repealing the amendment.
Thirteen states -- including Maryland -- and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
The Quinnipiac poll found substantial age, gender, ethnic, educational, religious and political divides in the emotionally charged debate.
Women who responded to the survey backed gay marriage 55 percent to 39 percent, but men opposed it 49 percent to 43 percent.
Sixty-eight percent of self-identified Democrats supported gay marriage and 26 percent opposed it. Republican respondents opposed it by the same ratio.
Sixty percent of those with college degrees supported same-sex marriage and 34 percent of college grads opposed it. Among those with no college degree, 49 percent opposed it and 45 percent supported it.
Catholics favored gay marriage 56 percent to 40 percent, while Protestants opposed it 57 percent to 36 percent. Among those who identified themselves as born-again evangelicals, 74 percent opposed it.
A majority of whites surveyed, 51 percent, supported gay marriage while black respondents opposed it 48 percent to 42 percent.
Among voters age 18 to 29, 74 percent backed same-sex marriage, and 52 percent of those age 30 to 44 favor it. But among those 45 and older, majorities opposed it.
In the governor's race, McAuliffe was the choice of 43 percent while 39 percent favored Cuccinelli. That's down slightly from McAuliffe's 5 percentage-point margin in the same poll in May. McAuliffe enjoyed a 16-percentage-point lead over Cuccinelli - an ardent abortion opponent - among women, 48 percent to 32 percent. Cuccinelli held an edge among male voters who responded, 46 percent to 38 percent.
Asked which candidate they'd rather chat with at a cookout, however, 38 percent picked Cuccinelli and 34 percent preferred McAuliffe.