Heterosexual Americans say overwhelmingly that same-sex couples should enjoy the identical legal benefits as their straight counterparts, but many fewer Americans, both straight and gay, approve of public displays of affection by gay men, according to a sociological study published Thursday.
Even as same-sex marriage is legalized across the country, the report finds that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans still face social stigma.
“Regardless of whether egalitarian values motivate individuals in the United States to confer legal rights to lesbians and gays, ideas about the moral inferiority of lesbians and gays may still guide social interactions,” said the report published in the American Sociological Review.
The authors surveyed 1,000 Americans, both LGBT and straight, and discovered that 70 percent of respondents said they supported inheritance rights for gay couples.
Of the heterosexuals interviewed, 95 percent said they approved of a scenario in which a straight couple kissed each other on the cheek in public, but only 55 percent approved of a gay couple doing the same. When asked if it were a lesbian couple, 72 percent of straight people approved.
Over 20 percent of heterosexuals interviewed disapproved of gay men telling the respondents about their relationships.
More straight men disapprove of homosexual public acts of affection than women, though the paper doesn’t reveal how large the percentage difference is.
Outside of the Stonewall Inn, widely considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement, gay men say they aren’t surprised. And most say they don’t care what straights think, as long as they have rights.
“Honestly, I feel like, ‘Pick your battles,’” said David Farber, a 40-something New Yorker. “Saying OK to rights like marriage is huge enough.”
Farber said he was surprised that such a large percentage of straight Americans approved of gay rights and that those were somehow less threatening to them than smaller acts of affection.
Long Doan, an Indiana University Ph.D. candidate who authored the report, said the disconnect between straight America’s view on rights and public acts of affection is in “a long line of literature showing that Americans tend to move quicker on these formal types of attitudes.”
“We had civil rights laws long before we had positive attitudes toward ethnic minorities,” Doan said, adding that Americans support rights because they see themselves as egalitarian, regardless of their personal views on homosexuality.
“The more informal, subtle types of prejudice linger much longer, because that actually requires people to change their views,” he said.
More surprising perhaps — and not explained by the data — is that gay men disapprove of same-sex public displays of affection more than they do heterosexual displays. Gay men condone straight couples French kissing in public 6 percent more than they approve of gay male couples.
Doan observed that while marriage rights “bring benefits,” getting governments to sanction partnerships is not a comprehensive bid for civil liberties. There are many U.S. states, like Alaska, Utah and Virginia, where same-sex couples can marry but are not protected from housing and employment discrimination.
The survey may offer clues to gay rights activists on the direction of the movement going forward, Doan said. “It would be great to take a more comprehensive approach.”
“There’s this informal type of prejudice that has primarily been neglected. There’s a push for more positive portrayals in the media, but the bulk of what people think of when they think of the gay rights movement is marriage,” he said.