by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
In the wake of historic victories for Gay rights supporters in last month's elections, a pair of USA Today/Gallup Polls find growing acceptance among Americans toward Gay men and Lesbians in the wake of historic victories for Gay-rights. The polls also find 'soaring optimism among Gay Americans that issues involving homosexuality will one day no longer divide the nation.'
In a survey of respondents who identified themselves as LGBT three of four say they are generally open with others about their sexual orientation. More than nine of 10 say people in their community have become more accepting in recent years.
Seattle Gay News took a look at some of the data the polls report and found that a 51% majority predict that at some point, the country will reach a general agreement on issues such as same-sex marriage.
YOUTH SUPPORT STRONG
Young adults are by far the most tolerant of homosexuality: among those 18 to 29 years old, 73% support same-sex marriage. Therefore the trend toward acceptance seems more likely to accelerate than reverse.
According to USA Today, more than a third of Americans surveyed say their views have changed significantly over time toward same-sex marriage.
Attitudes 'have changed from 'This is appalling' to... 'What is wrong with that idea?,' said Mary Ann Schmertz, 82, a real estate agent in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, describing her own evolving views on the issue to news reporters.
According to USA Today, in a follow-up interview after she was polled, Schmertz noted that her next-door neighbors are a Gay couple. 'Why should they be discriminated against?' she asked. 'They're paying taxes. They're leading decent lives.'
Significant opposition does remain. While 53% support same-sex marriage, 46% oppose it. A third would go further, saying Gay or Lesbian relations between consenting adults should be illegal.
In 1996, a Gallup poll found Americans opposing same-sex marriage by an overwhelming 68% to 27%. Now, an analysis of aggregated polls over the past decade shows movement toward support in every age group and every region.
SENIORS STILL OPPOSED
In the new survey, the only age group in which a majority opposes same-sex marriage are those 65 and older, and the only region with majority opposition is the South.
Last month's elections marked a turning point. Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. A fourth state, Minnesota, defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
There were other groundbreaking election results as well. In January, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin will become the first openly Gay member of the U.S. Senate. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will be the first openly Bisexual member of the U.S. House. A record four state assemblies - in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Rhode Island - will be led by openly Gay officials.
'We saw a landslide for equality across this country,' says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. 'There really is no other way to describe what happened on election night other than it was a watershed moment for equality in this country.'
RELATIONSHIPS ARE KEY
One very likely reason behind the changing attitudes is that nearly eight in 10 adults say they have a relative, friend, or co-worker who is Gay, and most describe that relationship as a close one. In the survey of Gay men and Lesbians, 73% said they are generally open about their sexual orientation with other people; only 26% said they aren't.
'When you have a brother or sister or relation, a friend, whatever, it's a personal thing,' said Mike Haigerty, 49, of Indianapolis, who was called in the poll. The director of religious education at a Catholic parish, he opposes same-sex marriage as a 'slippery slope' that would separate sex from procreation in violation of his church's teachings.
Still, he says, 'One of my closest friends has a younger brother who has a partner. I see their family at Christmas. Doug and John are great guys. We just don't talk about it. It's like 'don't ask, don't tell,' the military policy instituted in 1993 and repealed last year. When the issue is seen through the perspective of people you know, Haigerty says, 'that really pulls on people's hearts.'
Asked in an open-ended question why they back Gay marriage, about one in 10 supporters cite friends or family members who are Gay or Lesbian. One-third volunteer that only love and happiness should matter, not sexual orientation, and one-third cite equal rights. Fourteen percent say the issue shouldn't be one that is up to the government or themselves.
Asked why they are against Gay marriage, nearly half of opponents say it violates the Bible's precepts or their religion; another 16% call it morally wrong. Six percent say civil unions should be enough.
CIVIL UNION CONSENSUS
Indeed, a broad national consensus has emerged on granting same-sex couples the economic rights that civil unions generally guarantee. In the poll, more than three out of four Americans supported inheritance rights for same-sex couples and said Gay men and Lesbians should have access to their partners' health insurance and employee benefits.
Even among the demographic groups most strongly opposed to Gay marriage - seniors, conservatives, Republicans, and frequent churchgoers - a majority endorses those rights.
The question of adoption by Gay men and Lesbians has shown the biggest gains in recent decades. By 61% to 36%, those surveyed say Gay men and Lesbians should have a right to adopt children - more than double the support it had 18 years ago.
However, a majority of Americans, 52% to 42%, say the Boy Scouts of America shouldn't allow openly Gay adults to serve as troop leaders.
The national poll of 1,015 adults, taken November 26-29, has a stated margin of error of four percentage points. At the end of the survey, 4.9% said in response to a question that they were LGBT. That's higher than the 3.5% response Gallup typically has gotten, possibly because the previous survey questions dealt mostly with Gay rights.
A separate poll was taken November 27-29 of 251 adults who had identified themselves as LGBT in the Gallup daily tracking poll this year. The margin of error for that survey is six points.
In follow-up phone interviews several of those who identified themselves as LGBT in the survey either declined to be interviewed or asked that their sexual orientation not be revealed.
Nine of 10 Gay men and Lesbians say discrimination against homosexuals remains a serious problem. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans agree.
Ninety-one percent said the people around them have become more accepting in recent years. A majority in both polls, of Gays and Americans generally, say it's 'not too difficult' or not at all difficult for someone to live openly as Gay or Lesbian in their community.
Americans are now inclined to say that being Gay is something a person is born with. Surveys in the 1970s and 1980s showed the public overwhelmingly attributing homosexuality to upbringing or environment.
Those who say their views on same-sex marriage have changed significantly now support it, 71%-28%.
When asked why they had changed their minds, more than one-third said they have become more tolerant. Eighteen percent say they are better informed. About one in 10 say it is simply 'not as big a deal now as in the past.'
Indeed, 77% of Gay respondents and 51% of all Americans predict that the divisions over issues involving Gay men and Lesbians will one day be history, that Americans will reach a general concord on them.
Since 1998, voters in 30 states have approved constitutional amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman, and eight other states have enacted statutes barring same-sex marriage. Nine states and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize same-sex marriages.
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