CARSON CITY, Nev. - Nevada ballot questions to ban gay marriages and to legalize the medical use of marijuana have strong support among Nevada voters, a new poll shows.
But a well-organized attack against either measure could make a difference by election day, according to the pollster who surveyed the voters for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and lasvegas.com.
The poll shows 59 percent of the likely voters in November support Question 2, which would give constitutional protection to the state's current definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Thirty-four percent oppose the measure and 7 percent remain undecided.
The numbers reflect only a slight change from June, when 61 percent supported the measure, 30 percent opposed it and 9 percent were undecided.
Sixty-three percent of likely voters support Question 9, which would allow the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes upon the advice of a physician. Twenty-eight percent are opposed and nine percent remain undecided.
''As of today, there is clearly enough support for both measures to see them pass,'' said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the poll. ''But it is easy to convince voters to vote no on a ballot referendum by planting the seed of confusion.''
''If an organized group was to spend a lot of money and cloud the issue, it might make a difference,'' he said. ''So I wouldn't call it a slam dunk.''
Richard Ziser, chairman of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which is leading the fight for the passage of Question 2, said he's fairly confident that voters will support the measure in November.
''We know we're sitting at around 60 percent support,'' he said. ''Our goal is to get those voters to the polls.''
Ziser said the state needs its definition of marriage given constitutional protection to ward off the possibility that a gay union recognized in another state would be forced on Nevada by the federal courts.
But Ben Felix, co-chairman of Equal Rights Nevada, a group recently organized to fight the measure, said the real issue isn't the protection of marriage, but a move to deny basic legal rights to a minority group of American citizens.
Same-sex couples don't currently enjoy many of the rights afforded to legally married couples, such as being able to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners, he said.
''We're not going after the institution of marriage,'' Felix said. ''We would just like to gain our basic legal rights.''
The opposition group, which has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations, faces an uphill fight with only a tiny budget compared to the well-financed supporters of the measure, he said.
If Question 2 is approved by voters in November, it would have to be approved a second time in the 2002 election before it would be included in the Nevada Constitution.
The medical marijuana question has already passed once in Nevada, in 1998. If it passes in November, the measure will become law and require the 2001 Legislature to draft legislation to implement it, said Dan Hart, leader of Nevadans for Medical Rights, the group that qualified it for the ballot.
The measure, which passed 59 percent to 41 percent two years ago, is opposed by many in law enforcement, but there is no organized campaign to try to convince voters to defeat it.
''We expect support for the measure to remain consistent, and we'll work hard to make sure that happens,'' Hart said. ''It's an issue of compassion, of allowing a physician to prescribe the drug for terminally ill and catastrophically ill patients.''
Coker said it would be easier for an organized group to defeat the medical marijuana proposal than the gay marriage ban. The marijuana issue could be attacked as a drug legalization effort, he said.
But opposing the gay marriage question would be more difficult, Coker said. Even in states considered liberal, such as Hawaii and Vermont, politicians supporting the idea of civil unions for gay couples have found themselves in trouble in their re-election campaigns, he said.
The Sept. 9-12 poll of 627 registered Nevada voters has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The sample size was 48 percent men and 52 percent women, with 42 percent Democrats, 45 percent Republicans and 13 percent independents.