Before the August issue of American Demographics hits your desk, the first legally recognized union of a same-sex couple in the United States could already be history. Starting July 1, gay and lesbian couples in Vermont will have the right to join in a civil union - a bond virtually identical to marriage - and take advantage of more than 300 benefits previously available only to married couples.
Vermont may be a small state (population: 593,740), but the political ramifications of the new law are likely to extend far beyond its borders. According to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, four other states - Hawaii, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Maryland - have legislation pending that would recognize same-sex unions as well.
According to Gary Gates, a doctoral candidate at the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, gays and lesbians account for 4.4 percent of the nation's population: 2.5 percent are gay men and 1.9 percent are lesbian women. That brings the total number of homosexuals to roughly 3.9 million (about the same as the country's Asian population). A recent survey commissioned by market research firms Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications concurs - of the 7,558 adults polled, 4 percent were self-identified homosexuals.
The survey, which covered everything from media habits to political views, finds that only 40 percent of the general public favor a bill allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil unions in their state. Friends and family members of gays and lesbians - who accounted for 47 percent of those polled - are more sympathetic. Fifty-three percent of respondents who claim to have a homosexual friend or relative support such legislation. As expected, gay and lesbians themselvesare the most supportive with 88 percent backing legal recognition of civil unions.
A majority in the survey agree that gay and lesbian couples should be afforded certain rights, such as survivorship rights in case one partner dies before the other; employee benefits for partners, and the right to visit a partner in the hospital. At the same time, 48 percent (a plurality) of the general public oppose adoption rights for same-sex couples. Roughly half of friends and family (49 percent) support the right to adopt, while 90 percent of gays feel they are entitled to be moms and dads.
For more information about gay and lesbian attitudes, call David Krane with Harris Interactive at (212) 539-9648, ext. 648, or Bob Witeck with Witeck-Combs Communications at (202) 887-0500, ext. 19.