A Gallup poll released at the end of May shows that public tolerance for gay rights and gay issues is at a 30 year high.
The most significant finding was in public attitude towards the legality of homosexual relations.
Public tolerance for this aspect of gay rights expanded from 43% at the inception of the question in 1977 to 60% in May 2003. Then in July 2003, it fell to 50% and remained at about that level through 2005. Last year, it jumped to 56% and this year it reached 59%, similar to the 2003 high point.
Not surprisingly, the number of people who support the morality of homosexual relations isn't as strong as the legality aspect cited above, but there is progress on this front as well.
Results on the perceived morality of homosexual relations present a glass half-full/half-empty analysis conundrum. On the one hand, the percentage saying such relations are morally acceptable has clearly grown over the last several years, from 40% in 2001, when the question was first asked, to 47% today. This is the first year that an outright majority of Americans [49%] have not said homosexual relations are morally wrong.
While more and more Americans are willing to accept the legality of homosexual relations, there are still some key aspects of gay rights, such as gay marriages, where acceptance is still a minority view.
More generally, Americans' tolerance for gay rights currently ranges from 89% believing gays should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities, down to 46% saying marriages between same-sex couples should be as legally valid as traditional marriages.
Even though the majority view remains against gay marriage, the trend indicates a continuing shift towards acceptance.
What's behind the rise and fall of support? The poll has some insight into that as well:
...after several years of lower support for gay rights, support is now springing back to the relatively high levels seen in 2003, just before the Supreme Court's June 26, 2003, decision striking down a Texas sodomy law. (According to Gallup trends, that ruling appeared to produce a backlash of public opposition to gay rights.)
As you can see, the lifting of legal barriers, interestingly enough, have been shown to produce a lessening of public support for gay rights. Perhaps this is a case where some feel that homosexual relations are fine as long as they take place in San Francisco, but if a legal ruling means it's okay in their own neighborhood -- suddenly gay rights aren't such a great idea.
Gay rights activists hope this increased tolerance on the part of the public will translate into broader support for Senate Bill S.1105, as known as the Matthew Shepard Act, which is currently working its way through the Senate.
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