A startling number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangendered Americans are confused about the legal state of same-sex marriage in the United States, according to results of a new survey conducted by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, released exclusively to Advocate.com on Tuesday.
The data show that 51% of respondents mistakenly believed that civil unions are the same as marriage, while nearly a quarter of respondents (21%) thought same-sex couples can already get married somewhere in the United States. The survey was completed weeks before Massachusetts's highest court reaffirmed its decision ordering that same-sex marriage be permitted no later than May 17 and before San Francisco began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, at a time when same-sex marriage remained unavailable and illegal throughout the United States.
The notion that gays could already marry and that civil unions are equivalent to marriage "is emphatically not true, and [the survey's findings are] troubling information," said Kim Mills, HRC's education director. "We need to do a better job of getting the word out that only marriage--not civil unions or legal documents--can confer the more than 1,000 federal benefits [of legal marriage], such as Social Security survivor benefits, equitable inheritance taxes, the right to roll over your partner's 401(k), and so much more."
Mills said some of this confusion is due to false information being spread by antigay conservatives, some of which is then reported by the news media. The poll, of 748 adults who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, was conducted online by Harris Interactive between December 8 and December 15.
Those surveyed supported the institution of marriage by an overwhelming majority. Nearly 70% felt it was "extremely important" for same-sex couples to be able to marry. When the difference between marriage and civil unions was explained to them, the number of respondents who felt this way jumped to 83%.
The survey also found that a majority GLBT adults considered themselves Democrats with a moderate to liberal political philosophy. Some 62% of respondents gave their party affiliation as Democrat.
The poll showed that three quarters of GLBT adults were "absolutely certain" they will vote in the presidential election in November. "This research confirms that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Americans are highly engaged in the political process," said Cheryl Jacques, HRC executive director and president. "With marriage for same-sex couples very much on America's collective mind, we hope that the presidential candidates, and political candidates across the country, will think about this constituency as they formulate their positions on this and other pressing issues."
In addition to issues of equal rights for GLBT Americans, the other top issues for those surveyed were the economy (51%) and employment/jobs and health care (both 37%).
Among other key findings:
--More than half of GLBT adults surveyed (54%) reported that they were in a relationship with a life partner.
--A majority (63%) did not have a will because they had not devoted the time to preparing one.
--Just over half (53%) did not have a document empowering their partner to make medical decisions on their behalf.