Half of Harris County residents back gay marriage

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A majority of Harris County residents support gay marriage, agree that homosexuality is “morally acceptable” and approve of gay adoptions, the first time a majority of residents in the sprawling county backed those LGBT issues. 

Results from the 34th Annual Kinder Houston Area Survey from Rice University showed that 52 percent of respondents supported gay marriage, a number that is slightly higher than support for marriage equality across Texas. 

“A large portion of area residents espouse traditional values for themselves, yet respect the rights of others to make different decisions in their own lives,” Stephen Klineberg, founding director of the Kinder Institute, said in releasing the survey results on Thursday. “It is largely because of this that Houston has been able to develop into a modern, progressive and tolerant city.”

On gay marriage, 51 percent of survey respondents agreed that “marriages between homosexuals should be given the same legal status as heterosexual marriages.” That's up from 43 percent in 2009, 37 percent in 2001 and 31 percent in 1993.

It's also a few points better than results found in other recent surveys about marriage equality in the state. In April, the Williams Institute found that 51 percent of Texas residents back marriage equality. The number dipped below 50 percent in two statewide polls last year. 

Overall acceptance of homosexuality is rising too, according to the Kinder survey. More than half – 52 percent – of respondents consider homosexuality “morally acceptable,” reaching a majority for the first time in the survey's history. In 1997, the number was 21 percent, growing to 31 percent in 2005 and 45 percent in 2011.

The survey also showed growing acceptance for gay people to adopt children, topping out in the current survey at 51 percent. That's a sizable gain from 1991, when just 17 percent of respondents approved of gay adoptions. It's been a constant climb in the last two decades, with 28 percent approving in 2000, 38 percent in 2004 and 43 percent in 2012.

“On virtually all the relevant questions asked over the years, support for gay rights has increased consistently,” according to the survey.

The growing acceptance of LGBT equality is helped as people meet and interact with gay people, Maverick Welsh, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, told the Houston Chronicle. 

“People live next to gay people,” he said. “They're your neighbors. They're your friends. They're your family. It's really hard to hate your neighbors, your friends, your family. I think the country as a whole is over this issue.”

It can't hurt that Houston has a lesbian leader, Mayor Annise Parker, closing out her third term in public office. Parker has won non-LGBT accolades for her leadership and applause from gay activists for her support of LGBT issues, including passing the city's Equal Rights Ordinance and extending health benefits to the partners of gay city employees.

Cruising along Westheimer sitting atop a convertible with wife Kathy Hubbard – they were married in 2014 – in the Houston Pride Parade certainly helps too (photo).

And maybe Houston's gay college campuses – looking at you Rice and University of Houston – are helping change attitudes. 

But despite the encouraging (and continuing) uptick in approval for gay marriage, adoptions and homosexuality, problems persist. Houston is a mixed bag of highs and lows when it comes to LGBT rankings, schools in the state are homophobic, and companies flop in rakings of their LGBT love. Lawmakers aren't feeling it, either.

The Kinder Houston Survey is the longest-running study of the economy, population and beliefs of any metro region in the county. Some 809 residents across Harris County were interviewed for the survey between Feb. 2 and March 4. 

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