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Wayne Besen

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Why Gay Cultural Progress Is Meeting Stiff Political Resistance

Posted: 05/16/11 08:50 PM ET

Recent public opinion polls show that attitudes about LGBT Americans are rapidly changing. Consider the results of a May 13 survey by the Pew Research Center:

A majority of Americans (58%) say that homosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, by society. More than six-in-ten (63%) of those younger than age 50 -- 69% of those younger than age 30 -- say that homosexuality should be accepted. Currently, 45% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 46% are opposed. Two years ago, in April 2009, 35% supported same-sex marriage while 54% were opposed.

A significant shift on this issue can even be seen in traditionally conservative terrain such as Virginia. According to a May 10 Washington Post poll:

By a 20-percentage point margin -- 55 to 35 percent -- Virginia adults think it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to adopt a child in the state. But they are much more closely divided on the question of gay marriage, splitting 47 to 43 percent.

While the Pew Research poll shows that age plays a large factor in acceptance, the Washington Post survey reveals that religion-based bigotry is primarily behind opposition to LGBT equality:

Only 20 percent of white Protestants in the state think gay marriage should be legal, but 34 percent think gay adoption should be legal. There's a similar sized gap among white Catholics: 51 percent say gay marriage should be legal while 65 percent support gay adoption. There's no difference for secular Virginians, with about eight in 10 saying each should be legal.

Taken together, these two polls offer a lucid snapshot of where the LGBT community is and what obstacles it faces. To boil it down, there are two distinct reasons why LGBT people do not have full equality:

1) Our greatest source of new support are younger Americans who came of age in a Will & Grace world. However, younger voters are the least likely to head to the polls, which extends the fading power of the aging homophobic demographic.

2) The concentration of anti-gay sentiment among white fundamentalists - who are well-organized and more likely to vote - has created a situation that allows the political climate to lag behind a broader cultural shift.

Examples of such retrograde politics can be seen in the anti-gay views expressed by virtually every GOP presidential candidate. At the federal level, the Republican Party is enthusiastically defending the (un)constitutionally of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the states, the Minnesota Senate approved a 2012 ballot measure asking voters whether the Constitution should be amended to "provide that only a union of one man and one woman" be recognized as marriage. However, even before social conservatives could celebrate, a Star Tribune Minnesota poll found that 55 percent of respondents said they oppose adding an amendment while 39 percent favor it. The newspaper said that this is "a sharp reversal of poll results seven years ago."

The surge in acceptance has caused anti-gay activists to become more strident and extreme. In a direct mailer opposing marriage equality in New York state, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) resorted to disgraceful scare tactics, writing: "Classroom consequences of 'gay marriage' will forever change the innocence of our kids. It's wrong, but it can be stopped."

Whose kids are they talking about? Could it be Erica Diaz, the openly lesbian granddaughter of state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who heroically confronted her grandfather onstage as he spoke at an anti-gay NOM marriage rally in the Bronx?

Speaking of NOM, the group's former strategist, Louis Marinelli, released a new video this week expressing his support for marriage equality in New York. Equally frustrating for NOM was the recent influx of more than $1 million into the pro-marriage equality campaign by major New York GOP financiers, such as Paul Singer and mayor Michael Bloomberg.

If this was not troubling enough for the anti-gay industry -- LGBT people are now challenging traditional bastions of homophobia. For example, in the middle of the National Basketball Association playoffs, Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts came out of the closet. Welts' announcement coincided with a public service announcement by two Suns players, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, who spoke out against homophobia in sports. This came on the heels of New York Rangers hockey player Sean Avery expressing his support for marriage equality.

Anti-gay efforts to target African Americans will also be hampered by this week's coming out of CNN anchor Don Lemon. And, most disconcerting for extremists are efforts from within the church, highlighted by a recent New York Times article titled "Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity" and the Presbyterian Church USA becoming the fourth mainline Protestant church to approve ordination of gay people.

If it seems like opponents of equality are increasingly taking the low road, it is because they have clearly lost the high ground of public opinion.

 

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