Support for Gays in the Military Crosses Ideological, Party Lines

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

ByABC News
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.