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U. student support for legalization eclipses R.I.’s

The campus consensus is in favor of same-sex marriage, but Rhode Island is more divided

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 18, 2013
This article is part of the series Legislating Same-Sex Marriage

While more than 90 percent of Brown undergraduates responded in a March Herald poll in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, only 60.4 percent of Rhode Island residents support legalization, according to a survey conducted in February by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. The center’s 2013 figures resemble similar data collected in its Public Opinion Survey four years ago.

Rhode Island residents’ consistent support shows how liberal the state of Rhode Island is and has historically been, said Marion Orr, director of the Taubman Center.

Sarah Christensen ’16 said she perceives Brown as an “oasis” and separate from the rest of Rhode Island. But Christensen said she came to Brown from a “very liberal area” and was not surprised by the amount of support for same-sex marriage legalization she saw at the University.

The high level of support for same-sex marriage at Brown could also stem from the liberal-arts education the University provides, said Adith Ramamurti ’13. Students at liberal universities often support same-sex marriage, he added.

“My thoughts and perspectives have changed drastically since freshman year,” said Meghan Koushik ’13, adding that growing up in India gave her little exposure to the idea of same-sex marriage. Brown’s liberal and diverse student body helped her develop support for same-sex marriage legalization, she said. “Having gay friends in my life really shaped my perspective.”

Ramamurti said Brown’s political environment provides an opportunity for students to learn more about the same-sex marriage movement.

“People might not have encountered these things outside of this community, and they come in here, and their ideals and values are changed,” he said.

Support for same-sex marriage did not vary significantly among students of different class years, according to The Herald’s poll.

Between 80 and  86 percent of respondents “strongly support” legalization, with sophomores showing the highest percentage of support. Juniors expressed the most opposition, with about 4.2 percent selecting “strongly oppose” when asked about same-sex marriage legalization.

The Taubman poll revealed greater disparities among different age groups. Registered voters ages 30 to 39 showed the most support for same-sex marriage, followed closely by voters ages 18 to 29.

Generational differences between those in favor and those opposed were “surprising,” Orr said. Typically, younger voters are more liberal, so the center did not expect the highest level of support to come from the 30-to-39-year-old age group.

But Koushik said the high level of support from the older demographic makes sense because people in their 30s are more likely to be thinking about marriage and are able to relate to the obstacles faced by same-sex couples.

Of residents aged 70 and older, only 34.6 percent favored legalizing same-sex marriage, and nearly 50 percent opposed legalization, the Taubman poll showed.

About one-quarter of respondents to the Taubman survey opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, with a majority citing their reasons for opposition stemming from religion and a belief in traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Of those who indicated support for legalization in the Taubman Center’s poll, 62.1 percent stated that they were “strongly” in favor.

Almost 50 percent of those who reported supporting same-sex marriage in the Taubman poll said they consider it an equal rights issue.

“When you’re growing up 40, 50 years ago, (same-sex marriage is) probably not socially acceptable, but nowadays it’s more and more acceptable,” Ramamurti said.

The March Herald poll found that only about 4 percent of the student body opposes legalization.

The Taubman survey — conducted by student employees Feb. 21-23 this year — polled 593 Rhode Island voters on whether they supported legalization of same sex marriage. The Herald randomly polled more than 1,100 undergraduates in March.

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