Support for Gays in the Military Crosses Ideological, Party Lines

Public divided on gay marriage but two-thirds now favor civil unions.

February 11, 2010, 5:17 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- Americans continue overwhelmingly to support allowing gays to serve in the military, even if they "tell." And while the public remains split on gay marriage, a record two-thirds in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll favor an alternative, civil unions for same-sex couples.

Even conservatives and Republicans widely accept homosexuals serving in the armed forces, and for the first time half in both these groups favor civil unions. Gay marriage, not.

Click here for a PDF with charts and questionnaire.

While steady recently, views on gays in the military and gay marriage are well up from their levels in the 1990s, when the issue was debated during the Clinton administration. The shift in this poll is on civil unions, with support 12 points higher than it was when last measured in an ABC/Post poll in 2007.

One factor: Sixty-three percent of Americans say they personally have a friend, family member or acquaintance who's gay. Compared to those who have no such connection, they're 12 to 15 points more likely to favor gays in the military and 14 points more likely to support civil unions. They are seven points more likely to support gay marriage.

MILITARY – President Obama pledged in his State of the Union address last month to work to repeal the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly gay people from the armed forces. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen later testified in support of the move, and Mullen named a military commission to study it.

Eighty-three percent of Americans say homosexuals who don't disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military, a new high, up from 63 percent when the policy was put in place in 1993. Moreover, 75 percent say gays who do disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve – unchanged from 2008 but up from 44 percent 17 years ago.

Support for gays in the military crosses demographic, partisan and ideological lines. Around three-quarters of Republicans, conservatives and evangelical white Protestants say gays who don't disclose their orientation should be allowed to serve; indeed, majorities in these groups also accept openly-gay service members – 64 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of conservatives and 58 percent of white evangelical Protestants. Support is higher in less conservative groups.

RECOGNIZING RELATIONSHIPS – At 66 percent, support for legally-recognized civil unions for gay and lesbian couples is up from a previous high of 55 percent in 2007. While the gain crosses political lines, for the first time in ABC/Post polls half of Republicans and conservatives alike support civil unions.

Gay marriage gets less support – 47 percent overall, with 50 percent opposed. That's similar to the 49-46 percent division in an ABC/Post poll in April 2009, but with a slight, 4-point rise in opposition. Nonetheless these mark a significant increase in support from earlier last decades, when support typically was in the 30s.

As usual, support for gay marriage and civil unions is higher among women, people with higher educational attainment, Democrats and liberals. Conservatives, Republicans and evangelical white Protestants remain broadly and strongly opposed to gay marriage.

While there's little difference among age groups on gays in the military, younger people are more supportive of gay marriage and civil unions than are older adults. Gay marriage is backed by 65 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds but just 30 percent of those 65 and up; civil unions by 77 percent of young adults vs. 52 percent of seniors.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont allow gays to marry, and Congress is reviewing whether to allow it in the District of Columbia, where the city council approved it in December. In California, a federal court is weighing a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban state voters approved in 2008.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Feb. 4-8, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,004 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

ABC News polls can be found at at

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events