Americans not so cool with gay public affection

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A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, but that doesn’t mean they’re so cool with gays and lesbians displaying affection in public, a study published Thursday suggests.

Sociologists at Indiana University asked more than 1,000 people how they might feel about seeing couples hold hands, kissing on the cheek and French kissing in a park.

Ninety-seven percent of heterosexual respondents said they were OK with straight couples holding hands in public — but only 62 percent approved of gay men doing so.

Ninety-five percent approved of men and women kissing on the cheek, but 55 percent thought likewise if the couple in question were both men.

Fifty percent, meanwhile, approved of a straight couple publicly engaging in French kissing — but only 22 percent thought it was acceptable for a gay lovers to do so.

The level of approval for lesbian couples was a bit higher, at 75, 72 and 26 percent respectively, but it still lagged behind the level for straight couples.

Long Doan, lead author of the study, said the findings revealed ongoing prejudices towards gays and lesbians, despite the big gains they have made in marriage equality.

“Gay rights cannot be summarily measured by public approval of same-sex marriage. Attitudes toward same-sex couples are more complex than that,” the doctoral student told AFP by email.

“Over 50 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage,” said Doan, whose research focuses on the ways that emotions can maintain inequality in society.

“This is a remarkable increase in support from where it was several years ago, but what does that mean in terms of American ideals of equality?”

One twist surprised Doan and his colleagues: in some cases, gays and lesbians were even less approving of same-sex couples engaging in public displays of affection.

For instance, 45 percent of gay respondents thought it was acceptable for straight couples to French kiss — but only 39 percent believed gay men ought to do so as well.

That might be due to fears in the gay community that such behavior might lead to harassment and hate crimes, said Doan, whose study appears in the December issue of the American Sociological Review.

Support among Americans for marriage equality has consistently been running at better than 50 percent in successive Gallup polls since May 2012.

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