According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 50 percent of Americans would support an openly gay president.
Bad news: That seems unlikely.
Thanks to the last presidential election, we’ve all heard of the Bradley effect: Voters tell pollsters they’d vote for the black guy/woman/gay person, but then vote for the same white males they always have.
They want to give the answer that’s more socially acceptable.
This poll isn’t asking the harder question – whether the person being polled would vote for a gay president. It’s just asking if they would support a gay person who magically made it into office.
Yet 50 percent of the people polled said a gay President is A-OK with them.
Good news: If this indicates that the Bradley effect may now apply to us, it is a welcome sea change.
The presidential question is only one question, of course, in a silly (if scientific) poll that also asked whether someone would rather visit Bourbon Street, Graceland or Nashville.
And admittedly, the question also primed the person being polled to feel positively toward us. It said:
“The military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy prohibiting openly gay soldiers from serving in uniform may soon be changed. Would you support or oppose having an openly gay person serve in any of the following roles?”
As we know, an overwhelming majority of Americans now support gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. So they probably were feeling kindly toward us patriotic gay people before the full question was asked.
And then the poll gets stranger. After asking about whether Americans would support a gay president, it lists Supreme Court justice (55 percent), secretary of state (56 percent), commissioner of baseball (61 percent) and Super Bowl quarterback (62 percent).
Honestly, the only thing that seems less likely than Americans supporting a gay president is Americans supporting a gay Super Bowl quarterback.
Still, the point holds: Americans are becoming more sensitive to the idea that it is not OK to discriminate against gay people.
The question was really asking, “Do you feel like it’s OK to be homophobic in public, to a stranger?”
And the answer, it seems, is starting to be “no.”
This is just one step in a long series of steps toward equality, but it is an important one. Americans who are afraid of being labeled homophobic by a stranger in public (even by someone as innocuous as an anonymous over-the-phone pollster) are less likely to actually discriminate against gay people. They’re less likely to call us names; less likely to allow their kids to bully us in school; less likely to fire us when they find out we have a same-sex partner; less likely to legislate against us.
This is very different from 25 or 30 or 40 years ago, when it seemed like the “natural” thing to do was to find gays and lesbians unnatural. And it is very, very different from the days when straight Americans could not even imagine gay people openly holding any kind of public office, let alone the most highly respected one.
It is steadily becoming truer that being anti-gay is not OK.
Being unwilling to be seen as homophobic in public is a long way from helping us gain full equality, of course.
And it is unlikely to translate into actual votes.
But it is an important step.