When It Comes to Gay Rights, Familiarity Breeds Tolerance

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In a very short time, the United States has gone from being rather hostile to gay rights to increasingly accepting of them. Just 15 years ago, almost two-thirds of Americans opposed gay marriage. Just a decade ago, some pundits pinned John Kerry's loss to George W. Bush on the former's lack of a hardline anti-gay stance. Today, almost half the population of the U.S. lives in a state where gay marriage is legal; Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, has been greeted warmly by St. Louis; and only candidates running for office in the most conservative districts are making an issue of the rapid spread of legalized gay marriage.

What accounts for this sea change in how Americans view gay people and gay rights? A lot of it, argue researchers, comes down simply to familiarity: As a recent Pew report explains, "These changing attitudes may be due in part to the fact that a growing share of all adults say they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian." And when you know someone who is gay, you're more likely to support gay rights.

Since the poll results above come from different sources, they're not meant to be taken as rigorous statistical comparisons. They do, however, show a clear trajectory — one that certainly seems likely to continue.