Sixty-nine percent of Florida voters support allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military, according to a new survey released Monday by Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group.
``We are in a time of war. If we need soldiers and people want to serve, then they should be allowed to serve,'' national pollster Dave Beattie said of his findings. ``It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight, if you can get the job done in the battle zone, that's pretty consistent.''
The survey shows that 21 percent oppose allowing gays to serve.
Three-quarters of Democrats and Independents and two-thirds of Republicans ``who are not `very conservative' '' support allowing gays to serve, according to Hamilton Campaigns, which did the poll from April 22-25.
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The gap narrows, however, when voters were asked about the controversial ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy, which enables gays to serve as long as they don't say they are gay.
Fifty-one percent say they oppose the law; 44 percent say they favor it.
The strongest opposition to the law comes from white women, Democrats, and moderate-to-liberal Independents. ``Support for repeal is stronger among white women, Democrats, voters who know someone personally who is gay, and voters in the Miami and South Central media markets,'' according to Hamilton Campaigns.
Results are based on a survey of 700 registered voters who are likely to vote in the November 2010 general election in Florida. The margin of error is 3.7 percentage points.
Beattie, president of Hamilton Campaigns, also conducts polls for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Human Rights Campaign says it is focusing on Florida because Nelson is one of six uncommitted U.S. senators being targeted for support.
``Sen. Nelson sits on the Armed Services Committee. That is going to be the first line of defense for action in the fight to repeal don't ask, don't tell,'' said Allison Herwitt, HRC's legislative director. ``The Department of Defense authorization bill will be moving May 27. We're expecting Sens. [Joe] Lieberman and [Carl] Levin to offer an amendment to repeal the discriminatory ban and Sen. Nelson's vote is key.''
Trying to keep pressure on Nelson, HRC has:
Assigned field staff in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Pensacola.
Deluged Nelson's office with 2,800 phone calls and collected more than 6,400 signed postcards demanding repeal.
Held seven pro-repeal rallies in Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Miami, including one in Spanish at Versailles restaurant in Little Havana.
Nelson would support repeal subject to a study by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates of ``how it will impact the military,'' a spokesman said last month.
Most voters (58 percent) say Nelson's position on ``don't ask, don't tell'' makes no difference to them; 22 percent say they would be more likely to support Nelson for voting for repeal; 18 percent say less likely; and 2 percent have no opinion, Beattie said.