Gays Gaining Acceptance, Polls Show





James Ricci and Patricia Ward Biederman, in the LAT (March 30, 2004):

That gays are more widely accepted in American society is readily apparent in everything from television sitcoms to corporate anti-discrimination policies to recent U.S. Supreme Court opinions.

Less apparent is why and how the shift in attitude occurred. Although some religious and social leaders believe the new visibility of gays points to a national moral decline, the evolution of attitudes about gays is a complex brew of factors, according to historians, social psychologists and others who have studied the phenomenon.

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., has compiled 30 years' worth of major public opinion poll results on Americans' attitudes toward homosexuals. While the surveys consistently show that about two- thirds of Americans oppose gay marriage, an issue that has now reached the California Supreme Court, they also demonstrate remarkable shifts on numerous other fronts. For example:

• Public acceptance of gays in the military grew from 51% in a 1977 Gallup Poll to 80% in 2003.

• Approval of gays as elementary school teachers grew from 27% in 1977 to 61% over the same period.

• A 1999 Gallup survey showed that 59% would vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who was homosexual, up from 26% in 1978.

"There's been an enormous increase in tolerance — that's the bottom line," said Karlyn Bowman, who compiled the poll results for the institute.

Some of the factors fueling the changes have been related to gays' own efforts, some have not. Some factors have opposed one another, some have been mutually reinforcing. The black civil rights movement, changes in state and local laws, the AIDS epidemic and even the Sept. 11 catastrophe have been part of the mix.

Two powerful societal forces associated with the 1960s — the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement — are credited with driving the change in attitude.

The emergence of widespread contraception and a new insistence on sexual privacy were key elements in Americans' evolving view of sexuality, according to Gregory Herek, a UC Davis psychology professor and an authority on sexual orientation and prejudice. That a person's sexual behavior was his or her affair, and not society's, became an accepted precept...


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