As the Supreme Court considers whether to strike down state laws barring same-sex couples from marrying, let’s take a step back and look at how far the nation has moved on attitudes toward gays and lesbians. In 2003, 56% of Americans opposed allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into same-sex marriages. The March Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll–like other national polls–found that 59% of Americans favor same-sex marriage.
But Americans’ increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians goes well beyond support for same-sex marriage.
Two findings from the latest WSJ/NBC poll demonstrate where public opinion is today and the magnitude of change in less than a decade.
First, 76% of Americans say that when it comes to the way society deals with homosexuality, we have reached a reasonable balance (32%) or not gone far enough in ending discrimination against homosexual people (44%). By contrast, just 20% of Americans believe that we have gone too far in accepting homosexuality. In 2000, when the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land, a similarly phrased question that did not offer a middle-ground option produced more divided results, with 42% saying that society had gone too far in accepting homosexuality and 41% thinking that society had not gone far enough. In 2000, the gap between those thinking society had “gone too far” vs. “not gone far enough” was one point. This spring, it was 24 points, with the greater number thinking we had not gone far enough.
Perhaps more telling is an apples-to-apples comparison with a question asked in 2006: Who we are comfortable with as our president? This measure goes beyond mere acceptance, because it focuses on the highest office in the nation. In 2006, 43% of Americans said they would be enthusiastic or comfortable with a gay or lesbian as president. Today that share has jumped 18 points, to 61% of Americans. No other characteristic tested in both surveys comes close to that level of increased enthusiasm or comfort.
The changes in how comfortable Americans would be with a gay or lesbian president are no less dramatic than the public’s shift in support for same-sex marriage. And in many ways, they are more significant: The marriage questions and answers are about people’s acceptance of vows and a personal commitment between two loving adults who are, in most cases, private individuals. Feelings about the president speak to how much more tolerant and accepting we are as a nation to consider a gay or lesbian commander in chief representing the U.S. and our values. Less than 10 years ago, most Americans would not have been comfortable with this.
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal