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GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Public Opinion & Polls

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Public support for LGBT issues has steadily increased over the past two decades, as seen in polls on issues such as marriage, civil unions, employment non-discrimination and military service.

Gallup has been asking about LGBT-related issues for more than two decades. And while the use of loaded terms like "traditional marriages" and the outdated clinical word "homosexual" (a term routinely used by anti-gay activists to stigmatize and marginalize gays and lesbians – see Offensive Terms to Avoid) appear to have had some biasing effects on the results, these polls continue to show a steadily growing acceptance of LGBT people, gay and lesbian couples, and their families.

MARRIAGE

Since Gallup began asking in 1996, support for marriage equality has generally trended upward, though it has also fluctuated in recent years relative to current events:

Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

 

Should be Valid

Should Not be Recognized

No Opinion

2009 May 7-10

40%

57%

3%

2008 May 8-11 †

40%

56%

4%

2007 May 10-13

46%

53%

1%

2006 May 8-11^†

39%

58%

4%

2005 Aug 22-25^

37%

59%

4%

2005 Apr 29-May 1^

39%

56%

5%

2004 July 19-21^†

32%

62%

6%

2004 May 2-4^

42%

55%

3%

2004 Mar 5-7^

33%

61%

6%

2004 Feb 16-17^

32%

64%

4%

ˆ Gallup previously asked about "marriages between homosexuals" before changing to "marriages between same-sex couples"
† Asked of half the sample

Polling on marriage has been marked by considerable fluctuations in public support over short periods of time. For example, in the polls Gallup conducted between June 2003 and May 2004, support moved from 39% in June to a low of 31% six months later to 42% five months after that. These fluctuations mirrored the intensity of legal events (Lawrence v. Texas, gay couples marry­ing in Massachusetts), media coverage and political rhetoric around marriage — suggesting that poll numbers should be examined relative to both current events and long-term trends.

It is also worth examining these numbers in light of the evolution of public support for interracial marriage. In 1968 – the year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia – Gallup reported that only 20% of Americans approved of interracial marriage while 72% disapproved. It wasn’t until 1991, 23 years later, that for the first time more Americans approved (48%) than disapproved (42%) of such marriages — a trend that suggests majority opinion around such issues follows, rather than drives, legal advances in such areas.

CIVIL UNIONS & MARRIAGE

Public support for some form of relationship recognition has also risen substantially in the past several years, as shown in the following CBS News/New York Times data

Which comes closest to your view? Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry. OR, Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry. OR, There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

 

Legally Marry

Civil Union

No Legal Recognition

Unsure

2009 June 12-16

33%

30%

32%

5%

2009 April 22-26

42%

25%

28%

5%

2009 March 12-16

33%

27%

35%

5%

2008 May 30-June 3

30%

28%

36%

6%

2007 Mar 7-11

28%

32%

35%

5%

2006 Oct 27-31

28%

29%

38%

5%

2006 June

27%

30%

40%

3%

2005 Feb 24-28

23%

34%

41%

2%

2004 Nov 18-21

21%

32%

44%

3%

2004 May 20-23

28%

29%

40%

3%

2004 March 10-14

22%

33%

40%

5%

It is important to note that when questions about civil unions are asked separately from questions about marriage, some who oppose full marriage equality appear to support civil unions, and some who oppose civil unions may in fact be doing so on principle as a means of voicing support for full equality in marriage for gay and lesbian couples. As Gallup noted in a discussion of its May 2004 poll on marriage:

The current poll also shows that when people are asked first about gay marriage and then about civil unions, support for civil unions is higher than when people are asked about civil unions first. These results suggest that many people see civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage, and once they can express their opposition to the latter, they are more willing to embrace the "civil unions" alternative.

Similarly, support for gay marriage is lower once people have expressed their opinions about civil unions than it is when gay marriage is mentioned first. Taken together, these results show about a third of Americans (35%) supporting gay marriage after being asked about civil unions, and a clear majority (56%) supporting gay civil unions after being asked about gay marriage.

MILITARY SERVICE

Gallup has found that eight in 10 Americans now say that gay men and lesbians should have equal employment rights in the U.S. military – up from 57% when the issue of openly gay service members came to national prominence in 1992.

 

Should

Should Not

Depends

No Opinion

2005 May 2-5

79 / 76*

19 / 22*

^ / 1*

2 / 1*

2003 May 19-21

80

18

1

1

2001 May 10-14

72

23

2

3

1999 Feb 8-9

70

26

2

2

1996 Nov 21-24

65

29

3

3

1992 June 4-7

57

37

2

4

* Gallup asked half the respondents about employment in the Armed Forces for "gays and lesbians," resulting in slightly higher approval numbers compared with Gallup’s typical use of the term "homosexuals."
^ less than 1%

 

Similar findings have been made in polls by Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research when gauging public support for allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces:

[Gallup] Do you favor or oppose allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military?

 

Favor

Oppose

No Opinion

2009 May 7-10

69%

26%

6%

2004 Nov 19-21

63%

32%

5%

[CNN/Opinion Research] Do you think people who are openly gay or homosexual should or should not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military?

 

Should

Should Not

Unsure

2008 Dec 19-21

81%

17%

1%

2007 May 4-6

79%

18%

3%

HATE CRIMES LAWS

As legislation to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans under existing federal hate crimes law advanced in Congress and was ultimately signed into law in late 2009, Gallup’s polling has revealed strong public support for inclusive hate crimes protections. For additional information on inclusive hate crimes laws, see Appendix A: Federal & State Laws & Protections.

As you may know, federal law currently allows prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s race, color, religion or national origin. There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed against people because they are gay or lesbian. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?"

 

Favor

Oppose

No Opinion

2009 May 7-10

69%

26%

6%

2004 Nov 19-21

63%

32%

5%

* In 2007, Gallup asked "There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?" 

EMPLOYMENT NON-DISCRIMINATION

Public support of equal employment opportunity for LGBT people has reached near-universal levels. A vote on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would bar discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is expected in the current Congress.

In general, do you think homosexuals should or should not have equal rights in terms of job opportunities?

 

Yes

No

Depends

No Opinion

2005 May 2-5

90 / 87*

7 / 11*

1 / 1*

2 / 1*

2004 May 2-4

89

8

1

2

2003 May 19-21

88

10

1

1

2003 May 5-7

88

9

2

1

2002 May 6-9

86

11

1

2

2001 May 10-14

85

11

3

1

1999 Feb 8-9

83

13

2

2

1996 Nov 21-24

84

12

2

2

1993 Apr 22-24

80

14

-

6

1992 June 4-7

74

18

-

8

1989 Oct 12-15

71

18

-

11

1982 June 25-28

59

28

-

13

1977 June 17-20

56

33

-

11

* Gallup asked half the respondents about equal rights for "gays and lesbians," resulting in slightly higher approval numbers compared with the question using the term "homosexuals."

Currently, Americans can be fired from their jobs in 29 states simply for being gay, lesbian or bisexual, and in 38 states simply because they are transgender. For a list of states with inclusive non-discrimination laws, see Appendix A: Federal State Laws & Protections.

 


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