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Gay rights support in Houston

  • Good news.

    [A]ccording to the latest Houston Area Survey, fewer than half of Harris County residents believe homosexuality is morally wrong, 61 percent believe it’s an innate characteristic rather than a lifestyle choice, and 43 percent believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual ones — up from 32 percent just two years ago.

    Every measure of support for gay rights has increased significantly in recent years, said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982.

    He attributed the change partly to changing individual attitudes, but mostly to the emergence of a new generation that grew up amid positive images of gay men and lesbians who no longer felt the need to conceal their sexual orientation.

    Younger respondents to the survey, Klineberg said, were more likely to believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual unions, to support allowing gays and lesbians to be school teachers, and to say they had a close personal friend who was gay or lesbian.

    Anglo voters over 60 were most likely to oppose increased rights for gays, Klineberg said.

    That’s basically in line with polling data all around the country. Slowly but inexorably, the bulk of the people who think homosexuality is wrong are dying off, and they’re being replaced by a generation that knows better. Great for the country, not so good for the Republican Party. I figure the GOP will eventually adapt. If not, their ultimate demise will have been well earned.

    Note, by the way, that Kilneberg’s survey covers all of Harris County. The City of Houston is surely more liberal than the county as a whole.

    Ray Hill, a Houston gay activist, said he vividly remembers the disappointment felt in his community on the night of Jan. 19, 1985, when Houston voters overturned the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of greater than 4-1.

    Hill said gays and lesbians drove the change in attitudes by coming out of hiding, allowing heterosexuals to see how they could contribute to families and communities.

    “It’s not about what they think about us, it’s about what we think about us,” Hill said. “There is almost no reason in the world for anyone to be closeted any more.”

    I had the opportunity a few months back at a panel discussion to ask Ray Hill when there would be an effort launched to try to undo City Charter Amendment 2 from 2001, which denies health care and other employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees and which passed by a narrow 51.5 to 48.5 margin (PDF) at the time. He said the votes were there now to do it, and I have to agree. We’re likely still a decade or so away from attitudes being sufficiently different in Texas as a whole, but we’ll get there. Time is on our side.

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