Surging support for gay rights

SURGING SUPPORT FOR GAY RIGHTS…. The bad news is, voters in California, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas approved anti-gay measures on Election Day. The good news is, support for gay rights nevertheless seems to be on the upswing.

[T]he latest NEWSWEEK Poll finds growing public support for gay marriage and civil unions — and strong backing for the granting of certain rights associated with marriage, to same-sex couples.

Americans continue to find civil unions for gays and lesbians more palatable than full-fledged marriage. Fifty-five percent of respondents favored legally sanctioned unions or partnerships, while only 39 percent supported marriage rights. Both figures are notably higher than in 2004, when 40 percent backed the former and 33 percent approved of the latter.

When it comes to according legal rights in specific areas to gays, the public is even more supportive. Seventy-four percent back inheritance rights for gay domestic partners (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 73 percent approve of extending health insurance and other employee benefits to them (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 67 percent favor granting them Social Security benefits (compared to 55 percent in 2004) and 86 percent support hospital visitation rights (a question that wasn’t asked four years ago). In other areas, too, respondents appeared increasingly tolerant. Fifty-three percent favor gay adoption rights (8 points more than in 2004), and 66 percent believe gays should be able to serve openly in the military (6 points more than in 2004).

That last one is of particular interest. When Clinton wanted to drop the ban on gay Americans serving in the military, he not only faced pressure from officers and lawmakers, there was also significant public pushback. Sixteen years later, public attitudes have obviously progressed.

One other point jumped out at me. While 86% of Americans support hospital visitation rights, 10% don’t. Now, obviously 10% is a pretty small minority. But I have to wonder just how hateful and callous a person would have to be to hold this position. It’s one thing for far-right folks to hesitate when it comes to gay people getting married, but if they’re not even comfortable letting gay people visit their partners in the hospital, their hatred has blinded them to any sense of morality.

As for the Newsweek poll, the survey also found strong support for Barack Obama’s transition efforts (72% support). Only 15% of Americans believe there aren’t enough Republicans in the next administration’s cabinet.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.