The Rev. Al Riskowski has seen the polls showing a shift, a move toward support of gay marriage.
But Riskowski, an opponent of same-sex marriage, says a survey will never budge the Nebraska Constitution.
After a divisive campaign more than a decade ago, Nebraska voters amended the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The initiative passed in November 2000 with 70 percent of the vote.
Today, Riskowski and other key supporters of the effort to pass the ban say they recognize that support for same-sex marriage has grown. But they, along with some local church leaders, believe a majority of Nebraskans still oppose it and oppose redefining marriage.
“I don't see where Nebraskans would vote to change the definition of marriage,'' said Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council, a nonprofit group based in Lincoln that says it works to uphold biblical principles.
Added Dave Bydalek of Lincoln-based Family First: There's a difference between how people respond to polls and how they vote on a private ballot.
Some local church leaders say poll results that show rising support for same-sex marriage make it even more important for clergy members to emphasize the importance of keeping marriage between a man and woman.
The increase in support for same-sex marriage over the past decade is among the largest changes in opinion on any policy issue during that period, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew's latest survey found that much of the shift is tied to young adults, who support gay rights more than earlier generations.
Gay rights advocates say the polls reflect that more people now consider same-sex marriage a basic civil right.
“I hope I'm still alive for the day we look back and say, 'Remember when we wouldn't let gay people get married,''' said Beth Rigatuso, president of Heartland Pride, a nonprofit that says it promotes the prosperity of the gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Gay marriage recently drew the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on two cases involving gay couples' rights. Decisions are expected in June.
In one case, the justices focused on a section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denies legally married same-sex couples a host of federal benefits available to straight married couples. The other case concerns California's Proposition 8 ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, which a lower court ruling struck down.
Nine states, including Iowa, allow same-sex marriages. Thirty states, including Nebraska, ban same-sex marriage in their state constitutions. Ten states bar them under state laws. New Mexico law is silent on the issue.
Riskowski and Bydalek say their organizations would mobilize against any effort to reverse the Nebraska ban or redefine marriage.
Rigatuso, who was a leader of a group that opposed the ban, said she's not aware of any effort in the works to try to repeal it through a statewide ballot initiative. Shelley Kiel of Citizens for Equal Protection, which also worked against the ban, agreed.
But both women said that attitudes have changed significantly since the ban was approved and that they hope it eventually will be removed. Kiel said removal by a statewide vote is a possibility.
“2000 was a lifetime ago with regard to gay marriage and gay rights,'' Kiel said.
A national poll by Pew last month showed 49 percent of people in favor of gay marriage now, compared with 33 percent a decade ago.
The World-Herald Poll conducted last fall showed that statewide support for gay marriage was nuanced, with a split between those favoring same-sex marriage (32 percent) and those OK with civil unions but not marriage (22 percent).
Added together, they reflected a majority of Nebraskans.
World-Herald Polls of Omahans also showed a shift in attitudes among supporters of same-sex unions on the question of gay marriage versus civil unions.
In the 2009 poll, Omaha residents who backed same-sex unions were about evenly split between those who were for gay marriage and those for civil unions only. Last year, far more of such Omahans supported gay marriage over civil unions.
Bill Ramsey, who was co-chairman of a coalition that pushed for the Nebraska ban, said any shift in public opinion on the issue is sad.
“It's crushing to think about anything happening to the tradition of marriage,'' he said.
He said the poll results reflect an attitude in society “that anything goes.”
Riskowski, a former Assemblies of God pastor, said the poll results are, in part, a sign that churches are not speaking out strongly enough for keeping marriage between a man and a woman. He said it's best for children to have both a mom and a dad, and church leaders must emphasize that more often.
Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, said priests in the Catholic Church regularly stress that marriage can only exist between a man and woman.
He said he realizes that, particularly for people with gay children or relatives, it can be difficult to reconcile church teachings with a desire to want the best for a family member or friend. But he said the church can't waver on gay marriage.
“We don't bend with the way the wind blows,'' he said. “Because society may be seeing something in a different way it wouldn't prompt the church to change its ancient teachings handed down from Jesus to the apostles.”
Don Pahl, pastor of Omaha's Evangelical Bible Church, said that while it's important to have understanding and compassion for gay people, his church teaches that a marriage can involve only a man and woman.
“We believe the Bible is God's word,'' he said.
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