America to Same-Sex Couples: Sure, You Can Have Legal Rights, Just Don’t Kiss in Front of Us

Americans are in favor of granting legal rights like property inheritance to same-sex couples. They aren’t as in favor of public displays of affection.

gay cheek kiss
Jen Rosenstein/Corbis

Bans on same-sex marriage are being challenged and falling around the nation. Montana’s ban was just struck down, and South Carolina’s same-sex couples also have the go ahead to get married. This falls in line with the views of most Americans: approximately 55 percent support same-sex marriage.

That's according to a Gallup poll — other polls show different numbers, though most show a majority in favor. Support for other rights is coming in, too. Last year the federal government extended recognition of the legal rights that come with marriage, which includes prison visits and survivor benefits, to legally married same-sex couples now living in states that don’t allow same-sex marriages. (So, a couple married in Massachusetts doesn’t loose those rights when they move to Texas, for example.) 

But homophobia still lives on. Although they agree with granting same-sex couples legal rights, Americans still don’t think it is acceptable for same-sex couples to engage in public displays of affection, reports a new study of 1,000 people, published in American Sociological Review.

For example, respondents were in about equally in favor of inheritance rights for heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples, reports Kelly Dickerson for Livescience. But though 95 percent were in favor of a heterosexual couple kissing on the cheek in public, a smaller group, 72 percent, were OK with a lesbian couple’s kiss. Only 50 percent approved of a gay couple’s kiss. 

Another finding may be surprising at first: The lesbian and gay participants were also less supportive of same-sex kissing in public than they were of heterosexual displays. But when you consider the first finding, the second makes sense. "[We] believe that gay and lesbian people were less likely to approve of certain same-­sex public displays of affection due to safety concerns," says study author Long Doan in a statement published on "Indeed, gay and lesbian individuals are all too aware that same-­sex individuals are vulnerable to harassment and hate crimes."

The study participants' view on marriage lined up with the national trends—just over half were in favor. But more of the participants approved of granting same sex couples the individual rights folded up in marriage; essentially, it was the word "marriage" that gave them pause.

The findings show the disconnect between support for legal rights and social support for granting "informal privileges," the study authors suggest. In other words, people are starting to recognize that rights should be given equally, but some hesitate at using the label "married" from same-sex couples. "There is still much to be done when it comes to changing actual hearts and minds," writes Eileen Shim for Mic.

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