Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh spells out the voters’ views in a short, very understandable piece that confirms everything else I’ve seen in other surveys: Ask NC voters if they’re for gay marriage, and mostly they’re not. Ask them if they support an amendment to the state constitution declaring gay marriage and civil unions “invalid” and for most, the answer is also no — because that would be discriminatory.

A lot of people (obviously) view marriage as a religious sacrament. In that sense, they may be opposed to gay “marriage.” On the other hand, most folks don’t think the laws should be discriminatory, so they’re OK with civil unions, or civil marriages, whether gay or straight.

And then, one-fourth of the voters are fine with gay marriage however it’s defined.

But here’s Jensen, who has the numbers to back it up:

North Carolinians strongly think that same sex marriage should be illegal. They also strongly oppose the proposed amendment to write that into the state’s constitution.

Voters’ view about expanded rights for gay couples could be well described as ‘complicated.’ 61% think gay marriage should be illegal to only 31% who believe that it should be legal. Republicans (86/7) and independents (55/35) are both pretty strongly against it and even Democrats (47/44) are only narrowly supportive of legalized gay marriage.

However when you throw civil unions into the mix as an option 54% of voters support legally recognizing gay couples (25% for marriage, 29% for civil unions) while only 43% are opposed to any sort of legal recognition at all. Voters appear to be more hung up on appending the word ‘marriage’ to the relationships of gay couples than they are on actually giving those couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. Democrats (68/27) and independents (63/35) both strongly support extending more rights to same sex couples.

Voters say that if the election was today they would vote against the marriage amendment by a 55/30 margin. That 55% figure opposed to the amendment closely tracks the 54% of voters who support legally recognizing gay couples. The opposition to the marriage amendment holds true across party lines. Democrats (63/23), independents (52/35), and even Republicans (47/37) say they would vote against it at this time.

It’s not like North Carolina voters have become big fans of gay marriage all the sudden. They just don’t seem to think putting it in the state constitution is necessary, especially if that precludes giving gay couples more legal rights short of the ability to get ‘married.’

Pushing this issue is not doing much for the popularity of legislative Republicans. Their approval this month is 33% with 50% of voters disapproving of them, matching last month’s record low numbers for them. The Democrats’ numbers aren’t much to write home about either though with 38% of voters giving them good marks while 43% disapprove.

With both parties unpopular the generic legislative ballot comes out basically as a tie with Republicans at 46% and Democrats at 45%. That represents an improvement for Republicans since last month, when they trailed 46-42 on that question, reflective of the shift in the national political climate toward the GOP over the summer. But it also represents a significant improvement for Democrats from last fall when they trailed by 11 points on this question right before losing control of the legislature.