Having gay friends spurs tolerance: study

DALLAS Wed May 23, 2007 10:11pm EDT

Members of the Cathedral of Hope, the largest gay church in the world, stand during services in Dallas, March 18, 2007. People with gay friends or family members are far more likely to accept their sexual orientation than those who don't, according to a U.S. survey released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Members of the Cathedral of Hope, the largest gay church in the world, stand during services in Dallas, March 18, 2007. People with gay friends or family members are far more likely to accept their sexual orientation than those who don't, according to a U.S. survey released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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DALLAS (Reuters) - People with gay friends or family members are far more likely to accept their sexual orientation than those who don't, according to a U.S. survey released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The survey also found that liberal Democrats are far more likely to say they have a gay friend than conservative Republicans -- highlighting the political aspect of one of America's most divisive cultural issues.

Forty-one percent of more than 2,000 adults polled for the survey in December and January said a close friend or family member was gay while 58 percent said they had no homosexual friends or relatives.

"An analysis of survey results suggests that familiarity is closely linked to tolerance," Pew said in a statement.

"Overall, those who say they have a family member or close friend who is gay are more than twice as likely to support gay marriage as those who don't -- 55 percent to 25 percent."

Gay marriage has emerged as a hot-button issue that exposes the depth of U.S. political and religious polarization.

Supporters say gay adults should not face discrimination in areas such as marriage because of their sexual orientation.

Its staunchest opponents, who have led state ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage, tend to be evangelical Christians and Republicans. They see the practice as an affront to Biblical teachings and the "traditional family" model.

The Pew survey found evangelicals and Republicans far less likely to know -- or admit to knowing -- someone who was gay.

"Percentages vary greatly by political orientation: conservative Republicans are the least likely to say they have a close gay friend or family member (33 percent), while liberal Democrats are most likely to say so (59 percent)," Pew said.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants were the least likely to have gay family or good friends at 31 percent followed by Hispanic Catholics at 33 percent.

The issue also highlights America's North/South and rural/urban divides.

Only 37 percent of Southerners surveyed had gay friends or family versus 44 percent in the northeast and west. The rural/urban numbers were 34 and 44 percent respectively.

The survey had an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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