Poll: Many Believers Support Gay Rights

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

With all the abuse heaped upon gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from the religious community, it may be hard to believe that a new poll shows most Christians support some form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian relationships. The last election brought passage of Proposition 8 in California - with major support from the Mormon Church. Same-gender marriage was also banned in Arizona and Florida, and GLBT people lost the right to adopt.

Despite the defeats, a new poll commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), shows support for GLBT rights among Christians. The Pulse of Equality survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that among Mainline Christians, 42 percent support domestic partnerships or civil unions, while 40 percent support marriage. Catholics were not far behind, with 42 percent favoring separate but equal domestic partnerships, or civil unions, and 36 percent favoring full marriage rights. Among Evangelical Christians, 37 percent support domestic partnerships or civil unions, while just 23 percent supported marriage.

Overall, that means 59 percent of Evangelical Christians actually support some sort of legal protection for gay and lesbian relationships. This squares with a Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly poll done before the last election that showed 58 percent of young white evangelicals support some form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples.

Overall, the poll showed that 75 percent of the just over 2,000 U.S. adults over 18-years-old surveyed support either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. In addition, 69 percent opposed laws like the one passed in Arkansas that bans qualified gay and lesbian couples from adopting.

Neil Giuliano, president of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is encouraged by the results. He attributes them to the fact that gay and lesbian people and the issues important to them have been in the public eye. Apparently, gays and lesbians themselves are more visible; the survey showed 73 percent of those polled know someone who is gay or lesbian.

Giuliano is especially heartened by the result among Christians.

"What that means is that these conversations about LGBT inclusion are really making a difference and people in faith communities and religious communities who are having these conversations are playing a very important role. Leaders in the various denominations need to know their members actually support equality and are open to those conversations," he said.

That's an important point. Despite the anti-gay positions by many mainline religious leaders like Rick Warren, Pope Benedict XVI, and Tony Perkins—and the Mormon Church's well-financed push back against marriage equality in California—the rank-and-file sitting in the pews each week are more open to granting full rights to their gay and lesbian neighbors.

Leaders who continually speak out against gays and lesbians might wish to take notice that their congregations are already many steps ahead of them in tolerance, acceptance, and compassion.

All this good news begs the question though: If so many people are feeling so positive about their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, why did marriage equality go down in flames in three states and the citizens of yet another state voted down adoption rights? Guiliano believes it's all about the heated political rhetoric of the past election:

"The electorate is always going to be swayed by the political campaign of the day and what our data shows is that where the majority of U.S. adults are moving and what direction they're moving with regard to full equality of the LGBT community. When we look at those numbers it's positive to see the direction in which support is moving. There will always be political campaigns and the misinformation in some of those campaigns will give us setbacks and that's what we experienced in California," he said.

It's no surprise that the fear-based rhetoric surrounding the anti-marriage equality measures may have led some otherwise supportive people to vote their hysteria instead of their heart last November. But it's instructive to note that when the idea of domestic partnerships or civil unions were stripped from the question, overall, only 47 percent of those polled approved of same-sex marriage with 49 percent opposing it. If gay and lesbian people must rely on the tender mercies of the majority to grant them marriage equality, there's still much work to do.

One thing LGBT folk need to do is take the brave step of coming out. Of those polled, 79 percent said knowing someone who is gay or lesbian has helped to change their opinions on basic rights for that community. The opinions of religious leaders only mattered to 21 percent - meaning it's not going to be the religious leaders who help change people's minds, but the people in the pews, in the streets, and in the workplace who come out and lock the closet door behind them.

"When people know someone who is gay or lesbian they are more likely to stand with us for policies and legal protections for the community," Guiliano said. "So, we must continue to have those conversations, continue to be visible, and lead open and authentic lives."

The poll covered many other areas, from the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, to hate crimes, and laws prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment. Go here to read the full report.


Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

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