The Common Sense Foundation, a non-partisan public policy organization, has released the results from a study that shows residents of the Tar Heel State believe that gay, lesbian, and transgender people deserve equal treatment under the law – a far cry from this Red State’s reputation outside its boundaries.

You’ll recall that North Carolina was the only state in the Southeast that faced an anti-gay marriage amendment and halted it in committee in the legislature, even with a plethora of wingnuts pushing it hard. The results of this survey indicates much more progressive thinking than I imagined existed outside the Triangle, though it’s clear people are struggling with civil equality in adoption and marriage.

Some of the findings in “Liberty and Justice for All: A Study of Issues Affecting the LGBT Community in North Carolina” :

Do you believe all North Carolinians should have equal rights under the law regardless of sexual orientation?
73% said yes
18% said no
8% had no opinion

Do you think it’s fair for an employer to discriminate against an employee based solely on his or her Sexual Orientation?
57% said no
19% said yes
24% had no opinion

Do you think it’s fair for a landlord to deny housing to a tenant based solely on Sexual Orientation?
69% said no
23% said yes
8% had no opinion

Do you think it is fair to define marriage in such a way that it excludes same-sex couples?
51% said no
39% said yes
10% had no opinion

When a relative or loved one is sick and hospitalized, same-sex couples can legally be denied visitation rights. Do you think this is fair?
56% favor same-sex visitation rights
34% oppose same-sex visitation rights
10% have no opinion

Currently, same-sex couples are not legally entitled to coverage under their partner’s employee health plan even though heterosexual couples are entitled to this coverage.
35% believe this is unfair
59% believe this is fair
5% have no opinion

The following responses show the complete disconnect of the perceptions and feelings about general civil equality for GLBT citizens from the specific situations of marriage and adoption. This is clearly where work needs to be done to educate and inform.

Do you believe same-sex couples should be treated the same under the law as heterosexual couples when it comes to adopting children?
39% favor equal treatment
54% believe the state can discriminate
7% have no opinion

As long as marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman, many individuals will be denied the right to hospital visitation, adoption, and may have to forego medical treatment themselves because they are not entitled to benefits under their partner’s health plan. On further reflection, Do you think defining marriage in this way is fair?

12% believe this is unfair
54% believe this is fair
34% are unsure

On September 27th and 28th, 2005, Public Policy Polling conducted this telephone survey with a random sample of 25,000 voters in North Carolina. The results of this survey are weighted by gender to reflect the makeup of the original sample. While the number of responses varies per question, the minimum number for any single question was 770. The margin of error is therefore plus or minus 4%.

The victory in keeping the marriage amendment off the ballot in North Carolina is underscored by these findings. As long as the passage of such a measure is perceived as a benign affirmation of the “man-woman” institution, we have to be vigilant to keep an amendment from landing on the ballot. Our time and effort should be placed on coming out, speaking about our lives and letting our neighbors in this state know that civil equality for gays and lesbians poses no threat to their rights or liberties — or their families.

On the matter of adoption, I wish the polling had included a question about fostering, which has often resulted in a “split vote.” There are many gay and lesbian foster parents that take in and care for children in the system. States that had no trouble passing a marriage amendment or anti-adoption measures have left the foster system untouched, simply because of the desperate need for qualified adults to care for the explosion of kids in the system.

When the chips are down, gay is OK. It’s hypocrisy at its height, and this discrepancy should be used early and often when debate over “rights” are concerned. It’s a children’s rights issue that qualified foster parents — gay or straight — are urgently needed, and if a state feels gay people can foster children, there should be no restriction on adoption for those same children in need if they are placed in a loving home, regardless of the adult’s orientation.

You can read the report here (PDF).

Hat tip to Coturnix and BlueNC.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding