How The GOP’s Anti-Gay Campaigns Helped Americans Become More Accepting Of Gay Families

From the Wonk

Just as Americans are growing more accepting of gay rights and
same-sex marriage, a new study by Professor Brian Powell of Indiana
University finds that “a majority of Americans now say their
definition of family includes same-sex couples with children, as
well as married gay and lesbian couples” — although they “do
not consider unmarried cohabiting couples, either heterosexual or
same-sex, to be a family unless they have children“:

“This is not because more people are gay now than in 2003,” he
said. “This indicates a more open social environment in which
individuals now feel more comfortable discussing and acknowledging
sexuality. Ironically with all the antigay initiatives, all of a
sudden people were saying the word ‘gay’ out loud. Just the
discussion about it made people more comfortable.” […]

“Neither the numbers from our data nor actual votes on
initiatives are anywhere near the sufficient magnitude to support
the idea that the public is ready to embrace same sex-couples with
open arms,” the authors say. But, likening the resistance to laws
and mores against interracial marriage, “we envisage a day in the
near future when same-sex families also will gain acceptance by a
large plurality of the public.”

In the midst of the Right’s attempts to whip its base into
opposing gay rights in 2004 and the ongoing conservative effort
against a slew of LGBT initiatives, these results are not only
impressive, but also incredibly surprising. In fact, in an
interview with me, Powell said that the conservative anti-gay
campaigns actually increased the visibility of LGBT issues and made
“a topic that seemed taboo a little bit less taboo.” “One of
the fascinating things is that with all this discussion out there
whether positive or negative, being able to say the words, just
made people more comfortable,” he told me. “With all this
discussion about same sex marriage…I think it made people more
attuned to who there friends and relatives [are].”

“What did happen between 2003 and keeps coming up has been an
increase in belief among Americans is that your sexuality is not
really changeable,” he continued. “The idea that you can stop
being gay just like you can stop being het is something that
Americans are just increasingly not buying. And we found an
increase in percentage of people who said sexuality is just
genetics. There is also a good portion of people who say sexuality
is God’s will…. [But] here, God’s will is used as a liberal
response. Sexuality is just something not controlled by
environment, it’s something that just happens. ”

Children are still central to the family equation, however. People
think that “having a child is a signal that this relationship is
at least intended to last,” Powell explained. “Several people
said that even if two people break up years afterwards, there is a
kid. It’s still always going to be a family.” “It signals,
commitment, it signals responsibility, it signals some sort of

These findings are included in Powell’s new book “Counted Out:
Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family,” to be
published today by the Russell Sage Foundation.