With the defeat of marriage equality for gays and lesbians in California, Arizona, and Florida, and the banning of adoption by gay and lesbian people in Arkansas in the last election, it’s easy to believe that the majority of Americans oppose marriage and adoption rights for gays and lesbians. A new poll commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) paints quite a different picture.
The Pulse of Equality Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 75 percent of the just over 2,000 US adults over 18 years old support either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. In addition, 69 percent opposed laws like the one passed in Arkansas that bans qualified gay and lesbian couples from adopting.
The numbers get even more interesting when the views of those who identified themselves as Christians are counted (too few respondents identified as Muslim or Jewish to be quantified). Among mainline Christians, 42 percent support domestic partnerships or civil unions, while 40 percent support marriage. Catholics were not far behind, with 42 percent favoring separate but equal domestic partnerships or civil unions, and 36 percent favoring full marriage rights. Among evangelical Christians, 37 percent support domestic partnerships or civil unions, while just 23 percent supported marriage.
Overall, that means 59 percent of evangelical Christians actually support some sort of legal protection for gay and lesbian relationships. This squares with a Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly poll done before the last election that showed 58 percent of young white evangelicals support some form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples.
Talking to Neil Giuliano, President of GLAAD
Neil Giuliano, president of GLAAD, is encouraged by the results. He attributes them to the fact that gay and lesbian people and the issues important to them have been in the public eye. Apparently, gays and lesbians themselves are more visible; the survey showed 73 percent of those polled know someone who is gay or lesbian.
Giuliano is especially heartened by the result among Christians.
“What that means is that these conversations about LGBT inclusion are really making a difference and people in faith communities and religious communities who are having these conversations are playing a very important role. Leaders in the various denominations need to know their members actually support equality and are open to those conversations,” he said.
That’s an important point. Despite the anti-gay positions by many mainline religious leaders like Rick Warren, Pope Benedict XVI, and Tony Perkins—and the Mormon Church’s well-financed push against marriage equality in California—the rank-and-file sitting in the pews each week are more open to granting full rights to their gay and lesbian neighbors.
Leaders who continually speak out against gays and lesbians might take notice that their congregations are already many steps ahead of them in tolerance, acceptance, and compassion.
Why Did Gay Rights Take Such a Hit?
All this good news begs the question, though: If so many people are feeling so positively about their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, why did marriage equality go down in flames in three states and the citizens of yet another state voted down adoption rights? Guiliano believes it’s all about the heated political rhetoric of the past election:
The electorate is always going to be swayed by the political campaign of the day, and what our data shows is that where the majority of US adults are moving and what direction they’re moving with regard to full equality of the LGBT community. When we look at those numbers it’s positive to see the direction in which support is moving. There will always be political campaigns and the misinformation in some of those campaigns will give us setbacks, and that’s what we experienced in California.
It’s no surprise that the fear-based rhetoric surrounding the anti-marriage equality measures may have led some otherwise supportive people to vote with their hysteria instead of their heart in November. But it’s instructive to note that when the idea of domestic partnerships or civil unions were stripped from the question, overall, only 47 percent of those polled approved of same-sex marriage with 49 percent opposing it. If gay and lesbian people must rely on the tender mercies of the majority to grant them marriage equality, there’s still much work to do.
…And Shut the Door Behind You
One thing LGBT folks need to do is take the brave step of coming out. Of those polled, 79 percent said knowing someone who is gay or lesbian has helped to change their opinions on basic rights for that community. The opinions of religious leaders only mattered to 21 percent—meaning it’s not going to be the religious leaders who help change people’s minds, but the people in the pews, in the streets, and in the workplace who come out and lock the closet door behind them.
“When people know someone who is gay or lesbian they are more likely to stand with us for policies and legal protections for the community,” Guiliano said. “So, we must continue to have those conversations, continue to be visible, and lead open and authentic lives.”
The poll covered many other areas, from the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy to hate crimes and laws prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment. Go here to read the full report.