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Pew poll: 4 in 10 Americans have close friends or relatives who are gay

And that’s because those gays and lesbians came out to them. Coming out, as we’ve discussed many times here at the Blend, is the most important act one can do to help the advancement of LGBT rights. (Pew):

About half of all women, young people, college graduates, political liberals and mainline Protestants say that someone close to them is gay, the survey found. But significantly fewer men, conservative Republicans and older Americans report that a good friend or family member is homosexual.

An analysis of survey results suggests that familiarity is closely linked to tolerance. People who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage and they are also significantly less likely to favor allowing schools to fire gay teachers than are those with little or no personal contact with gays, the poll found.

…Percentages vary greatly by political orientation: Conservative Republicans are the least likely to say they have a close gay friend or family member (33%), while liberal Democrats are most likely to say so (59%). Race seems to have virtually no effect on whether a person knows gay people well.

[Pew’s poll involved 2,007 randomly selected adults conducted Dec. 12-Jan. 9, 2007.]

The closet is where the religious fundamentalists want to keep us padlocked — in denial, pain and self-loathing. It’s no surprise that the Bible Belt is full of closets. What’s tragic is that out of that 33% of conservatives who do know someone gay, I’m sure a certain percentage of them probably wishes that person could be “cured” of their homosexuality; and many don’t have a problem with the orientation of the specific person they know but are still willing to voting against measures to extend civil rights to that friend/relative.

Why coming out and taking the issue head-on is necessary…after the flip.What can we do to get those poll numbers to continue to rise in our favor? From an earlier Blend post:

* If you are gay and if it is at all possible for you to safely come out, DO IT. No one ever regrets throwing open that closet door, even if the path is difficult for a while. The more that people realize we are your neighbors, co-workers, teachers, police officers and leaders in the community, the less effective the “fear and loathing” demonization campaign by the Right is.

* Make states that pass marriage amendments and anti-gay legislation know that our gay dollars can go elsewhere. If a state has determined that civil rights for a group can be determined at the ballot box, we can speak with our feet and our wallets.

* If you are straight and an ally, make it known. Support your gay friends and loved ones when you hear intolerant conversation, politely engage ignorance with information.

* Make the Democratic establishment get off of their asses on this issue. Too many are DINOs, ready to sacrifice all principles for a vote as a career politician. Courage is in short supply, apparently, so these losers need to be threatened with the electoral boot. Party hacks need to be held accountable. Write them and call them out in emails and in the blogosphere.

* Don’t assume potential allies are educated on the issues. I find that a lot of sympathetic straight allies are woefully undereducated about gay rights issues. Kate and I had a conversation with an otherwise politically progressive woman who thought: 
1) same sex marriage was legal in several states;
2) we could marry in Massachusetts (out of state same-sex couples cannot if their home state doesn’t recognize gay marriages);
3) a Canadian marriage is legal here in the U.S. (nope);
4) states aren’t successfully passing marriage amendments (every one that has made it to the ballot has passed so far except Arizona).

The patchwork of domestic partnership laws adds further confusion. Until we can educate people who would support us and get this issue on the radar for them, how can we expect to fight the Right wing?

* Don’t give a dime to candidates or parties unless they are willing to take an actual position, not a punt of “marriage is between a man and a woman” so there’s no need for a constitutional amendment, “unless the courts see otherwise.”


Regarding marriage equality, the numbers tell the tale in this Pew poll — gains are being made, but one thing is clear — we must continue to stress why our rights should not be put to a  popular vote — that’s what the fundies cling to. Hearts and minds haven’t changed to embrace full equality — and they want to keep it that way, ratcheting up the hysteria because they know that ultimately they are on the wrong side of history.

* More than half of Americans (55%) oppose letting same-sex couples marry legally; 33% oppose it strongly
* Support for marriage equality stands at 37%, with only 13% strongly in favor of it.

Pew notes that the pattern of opposition being higher and stronger and support being lower and weaker — has not differed in any of its polling, citing that in June 1996, 65% of Americans opposed gay marriage, 41% of them strongly; 27% favored it, only 6% strongly.

The Pew poll also had a helpful roundup on the state of marriage equality:

* Marriage: Massachusetts.
* Civil unions: New Hampshire is poised to join Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey in enacting a civil-union law that conveys all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, without the title.
* Recognition of legal relationships: In 2007, Rhode Island became the first state to recognize same-sex marriages from Massachusetts; and as we learned this month, in NY, a judge ruled the state must legally recognize marriages of New York residents who tied the knot in Massachusetts prior to the NY high court ruling that barred recognition.
* Domestic partnerships: Oregon and Washington are now on the list (along with California, Hawaii and Maine) of states with domestic partnership laws that cover some, not all, benefits conveyed with marriage in those states. [Correction from the comments — Karrie notes that the Oregon Domestic Partnership law does have state-level equivalency to marriage.]
* Barring recognition of relationships: There are laws in 42 states that prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying because of state DOMAs, with 26 states having passed amendments to their constitutions to shut the door on marriage equality.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding