By JENNIFER AGIESTA and LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

Barbara Von Aspern loves her daughter, “thinks the world” of the person her daughter intends to marry and believes the pair should have the same legal rights as anyone else. It pains her, but Von Aspern is going to skip their wedding. Her daughter, Von Aspern explains, is marrying another woman.

“We love them to death, and we love them without being judgmental,” the 62-year-old Chandler, Ariz., retiree said. “But the actual marriage I cannot agree with.”

It’s complicated, this question of legitimizing gay marriage. Americans are grappling with it from their homes to the halls of government in the shadow of a presidential election next year. The ambivalence is reflected in a new poll that shows the nation is passionate, conflicted and narrowly split on same-sex marriage.

Fifty-three percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed believe the government should give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex, about the same as last year, according to the nationwide telephone poll by The Associated Press and the National Constitution Center. Forty-four percent were opposed.

People are similarly conflicted over what, if anything, the government should do about the issue.

Support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage has shifted in recent years, from a narrow majority opposed in 2009 to narrow majority support now. Some of the shift stems from a generational divide, with the new poll showing a majority of Americans under age 65 in favor of legal recognition for same-sex marriages, and a majority of seniors opposed.

In some places, government has moved ahead while the nation debates. New York in July became the sixth state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize same-sex marriage. Still, the issue played a part in the special election Tuesday to replace disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. Democrat David Weprin’s support for gay marriage cost him support among the district’s Orthodox Jews, and he lost to Republican Bob Turner.

Also Tuesday, lawmakers in North Carolina, the only state in the Southeast that does not have language in its constitution banning gay marriage, voted to put the question on the 2012 ballot. Most Americans who live in states where gay marriage is not already legal say it is unlikely their state will pass such a law; just 20 percent think it is likely to become law in their state.

Americans also are conflicted on how to go about legalizing or outlawing gay marriage.

One option is banning gay marriage by constitutional amendment. About half of the poll’s respondents, 48 percent, said they would favor such an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Most who feel this way do so intensely. About 40 percent would strongly favor such a change. Forty-three percent said they would oppose such an amendment, and 8 percent were neutral, according to the poll.

Most — 55 percent — believe the issue should be handled at the state level, however, and opinions on how states should act are split. People are about evenly divided on whether their states should allow same-sex marriages — 42 percent favor that and 45 percent are opposed — and tilt in favor of state laws that allow gay couples to form civil unions — 47 percent in favor, 38 percent opposed and 13 percent neutral, according to the poll.

“The different moral standards in different areas, probably, are the biggest reason that same-sex marriages are an issue,” said Dale Shoemaker, 54, a military retiree from Boise, Idaho. If gay couples who want to get married live in a state that doesn’t allow it, they can move to one that does, he said.

Either way, gay couples “should have benefits,” Shoemaker said. “If they’re living together and cohabitating and are a couple, (they should have) the insurance and retirement and that type of thing, the monetary benefits.”

Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) in the poll shared Shoemaker’s take when it comes to government benefits. They said same-sex couples should be entitled to the same legal benefits as married couples of the opposite sex. Forty percent felt the government should distinguish between them.

The poll did uncover some inequities. It suggests, for example, that opponents of same-sex marriage were far more apt to say that the issue is one of deep importance to them. Forty-four percent of those polled called it extremely or very important for them personally. Among those who favor legal marriage for gay couples, 32 percent viewed the issue as that important.

Von Aspern is an example of an American whose opposition to gay marriage is deep and abiding. It’s based on her religion — she is Mormon — and as such it overrode other considerations when it came to her daughter’s wedding.

“It was very difficult,” Von Aspern says. “We had to bring them to the house and hug them and love them and tell them these things and not let that keep us apart.”

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

The Associated Press-National Constitution Center Poll on same-sex marriage was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 18-22. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellular phones.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.1 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

 


Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap