Carnegie Mellon University

Program for Deliberative Democracy

Department of Philosophy

The Issue of Marriage in America (Pennsylvania)

On September 27th 2008, a statewide deliberative poll on “The Issue of Marriage in America” was conducted in order to determine citizen opinions regarding a proposed PA Marriage Protection Amendment. This amendment would define marriage as that between a man and a woman and would not recognize any functional equivalence to such an arrangement (e.g., civil unions).

In a Deliberative Poll a scientific random sample of the population receives background information on an issue. The sampled individuals then gather in small, moderated groups to discuss and deliberate the topic amongst themselves and with experts and then respond to a survey.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Survey Research Center recruited some 400 participants, 250 of whom participated in the day-long event. The participant list (4000) was gathered from voter registration rolls of counties surrounding four host sites: Carnegie Mellon University, Community College of Philadelphia, Shippensburg University and Slippery Rock University. These sites were selected to represent both urban and rural voters from various geographic areas in the state.

Initial results show that nearly 70 percent of the Pennsylvania voters who participated in this deliberative poll support the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, either through marriage or civil unions. 

But the situation is more complex than this headline implies. Among those who support legal recognition of same-sex relationships, participants split with approximately 35 percent supporting same-sex marriage and 35 percent supporting a version of civil union. 

Interestingly, participant data also showed approximately 50% support for the PA Marriage Protection Amendment as it relates to the definition of marriage. This is due to the fact that up to 70% of those supporting civil unions were conservative in their opinion regarding a change in name. Nevertheless, since that group does support civil unions, support for the current phrasing of the amendment (which precludes recognition of civil unions) would logicalkly drop back to 35% based on the analysis of our data.

As to the process itself, an overwhelming majority across all four sites felt that the experience was helpful, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. In the Spring of 2009 a follow-up survey of participants was conducted to assess the longitudinal effects of the deliberative event.