Experience with Gays & Lesbians Breeds Support for GLBT Causes

June 3, 2009

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Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Men | Women

While 57% of Americans oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, Americans who personally know someone who is gay or lesbian are almost evenly divided on the matter, with 49% in favor and 47% opposed, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll.

In contrast,? those who have had less experience with gay people are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage.? Some 72% of those who do not personally know anyone who is gay oppose legalized gay marriage while only 27% favor it.

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Liberals Know More Gays

Overall, a majority of Americans (58%) say they have a friend, relative, or coworker who is gay or lesbian. These numbers have remained basically unchanged since Gallup first asked this question in 2003.

However, examining personal experience by ideology, a far greater number of self-identified liberals (71%) say they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian. This number is significantly higher than the number of moderates (58%) and conservatives (55%), who align more closely with the national average.

Knowing Gay People Increases GLBT Support

The study found, not surprisingly, that Americans’ views of gay marriage are strongly related to ideology. However, the increase in support among those who personally know someone who is gay or lesbian is not merely a reflection of the fact that liberals are more likely to know someone of same-sex orientation, Gallup said.

Gallup’s analysis reveals that, when controlling for ideology, those who know someone who is gay or lesbian are significantly more supportive of gay marriage than are those of the same political persuasion who do not personally know someone who is gay or lesbian.
Americans who know someone who is gay or lesbian are about evenly split between saying legalizing gay marriage will change society for the worse (39%) and that it will have no effect on society (40%).

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Former US VP Dick Cheney’s recent announcement that he is in favor of same-sex marriage anecdotally bears out? Gallup’s findings.? Though Cheney is politically conservative, his daughter, Mary Cheney, is a lesbian.

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) who do not personally know a gay or lesbian person believe that legalized gay marriage will change society for the worse – far greater than the 48% of national adults who say the same. Only a small minority of Americans believe legal gay marriage will change society for the better, but those who personally know someone who is gay or lesbian are three times more likely to say this than are those who do not know anyone who is gay or lesbian, Gallup said.

Experience and Acceptance

In addition to the findings on gay marriage, Gallup similarly finds those with personal experience with gay or lesbian individuals more accepting of same-sex relations in general:

  • A majority of Americans overall (56%) think same-sex relations should be legal, and two-thirds (67%) of those who personally know a gay or lesbian individual agree.
  • A majority (57%) of those who do not personally know anyone who is gay say gay or lesbian relations should not be legal.
  • Of those who say they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, 88% say they are comfortable around these individuals, compared with 64% of those who do not personally know someone who is gay or lesbian.
  • Among adults overall, fewer than two in 10 say they are uncomfortable around someone who is gay or lesbian, but that number increases to 3 in 10 among those who do not personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian.

About the study: The results are from a May 7-10, 2009 poll, which asked Americans their views on a number of issues relating to gays and lesbians. Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 US adults, ages 18+. Interviews were conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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