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Gallup Vault
Gallup Vault: Issue of Gays in Military Split Americans in 1993
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Issue of Gays in Military Split Americans in 1993

As the U.S. grapples with President Donald Trump's surprise decision to ban transgender military personnel, the Gallup Vault looks back at 1993, when another controversy involving the LGBT community was top of mind in America -- allowing gays to serve in the military. The issue was front and center in January 1993, as newly installed President Bill Clinton was trying to make good on his campaign promise to end the longstanding ban on gays serving. A Gallup poll at the time found Americans closely split on the issue, with 43% approving of lifting the ban and 50% disapproving.

Half of Americans Opposed Easing Barriers to Gays in the Military in 1993
Do you approve or disapprove of ending the ban on homosexuals from serving in the military?
Approve Disapprove No opinion
% % %
U.S. adults 43 50 7
Men 34 61 5
Women 51 41 8
18 to 29 43 53 4
30 to 49 44 49 7
50 to 64 45 50 5
65+ 40 51 9
East 50 46 4
West 47 43 10
Midwest 42 50 8
South 36 60 4
College graduate 51 43 6
Some college 51 42 7
No college 36 57 7
Party ID
Republican 24 71 5
Independent 46 46 8
Democrat 54 40 6
Veteran 38 59 3
Know someone gay 63 31 6
Gallup, Jan. 29-31, 1993

The poll found emotions running high on both sides, with 67% of those in favor of lifting the ban and 78% of those opposed feeling strongly about their position.

The issue also revealed societal cleavages in attitudes toward gay rights that have persisted through today. Women and Democrats were generally supportive of lifting the ban on gays in the military, as were those living in the East. By contrast, majorities of men, seniors, residents of the South, Republicans and adults with no college education opposed lifting it.

Some of the sharpest differences were rooted in personal experience. U.S. veterans in the poll opposed the ban by about a 20-point margin, 59% vs. 38%. Meanwhile, most adults who reported they personally knew a gay person favored lifting it, 63% to 31%.

Later that year, after what The New York Times described as "six months of turmoil" over his proposal to end the ban, Clinton announced the "don't ask, don't tell" compromise. This allowed gays to serve in the military as long as they didn't reveal being gay or engage in prohibited behavior. At the same time, it barred the military from asking service members about their sexual orientation.

Gallup's initial poll measuring public reaction to "don't ask, don't tell" also found Americans divided, with 48% supporting the plan and 49% opposed.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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