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Same-sex marriage not only top priority for gays, survey finds

A gay marriage supporter holds a placard at the US Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.
A gay marriage supporter holds a placard at the US Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images

With the United States Supreme Court set to announce its decisions on two landmark same-sex marriage cases later this month, a significant percentage of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans believe the issue is taking too much attention away from other gay-rights issues, an extensive new survey of LGBT individuals has found.

According to a poll of 1,197 LGBT Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center -- the first of its kind from the venerable survey-taker -- 39 percent say same-sex marriage is overshadowing other priorities such as equal employment rights, HIV prevention and adoption rights. However, a majority of respondents, 58 percent, still believe same-sex marriage should be a top priority even if it takes attention away from other issues they deem important.

The survey also found that an overwhelming majority of LGBT people -- more than nine in 10 -- believe both that America is growing more accepting of homosexuality and that the country will become even more accepting in the coming decade. However, many responded that they still feel stigmatized for being gay, bisexual or transgender. Twenty-one percent said they have been treated unfairly at work, 30 percent said they have been physically attacked or threatened, and nearly 40 percent said that they have been rejected by a friend or family member because of their sexual orientation. And 58 percent of respondents said they have been targets of slurs or jokes.

Despite the advances in perceived acceptance among the LGBT community, the survey found fewer than six in 10 respondents have come out to their mother (and just four in 10 are out to their fathers). This is despite the finding that the majority of those who are out to their parents say that fact did not damage their relationships.

Compared to the general demographics of America, the survey found that the LGBT population skews more liberal and Democratic, more satisfied with the direction of the country, and less religious -- but also less happy. Just 18 percent of LGBT adults say they are "very happy" with their lives, compared to 30 percent of adults in the general public. That is a finding that the poll-takers say is bedeviling, but may correspond to the fact that the LGBT community is generally younger with lower family incomes than the general populace, two factors that tend to account for "less happy" responses in other surveys.

And then there's the question of who the LGBT community feels is most responsible for championing gay rights. President Obama leads the way there, with 23 percent of respondents naming him as the most important public figure working to advance LGBT causes. Next was talk show host Ellen DeGeneres at 18 percent. One respondent, a 31-year-old bisexual female, defended her choice of DeGeneres by saying that she "has been out for so long that it is no longer an issue, and older white women feel comfortable with her show. She normalizes LGBT people."

The survey was conducted in April and administered entirely online, a method that tends to acquire more honest answers on sensitive topics such as sexual orientation due to its anonymity, according to Pew.