A new survey has revealed that a majority of Americans support some form of legal civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. However, just 47% favour gay marriage while 49% oppose it.

75% of US adults said they are in favour of either marriage or domestic partnerships or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

22% said same-sex relationships should have no legal recognition.

At present lesbian and gay couples can marry in two states, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

For a five month period earlier this year, between a California Supreme Court ruling and a statewide ballot on the issue on Election Day on November 4th, more than 18,000 same-sex couples legally married in California.

The efficacy of the ballot, Proposition 8, as a vehicle to remove rights from gay couples is being challenged in court.

Comprehensive civil union or domestic partnership laws exist in five other states and the District of Columbia.

The Pulse of Equality survey was commissioned by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Harris Interactive surveyed 2,008 US adults ages 18+, between November 13 to November 17, 2008. Interviewing was conducted by telephone using random digit dialing (RDD). Results were weighted as needed using age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number in household, and household income to be representative of the US population of adults age 18 and over.

Among the key findings:

* About six in 10 (63%) of US adults favour expanding hate crime laws to cover gay and transgender people.

Hate crimes laws cover gay and transgender people in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and an additional – 20 states’ laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.

* A slight majority of US adults (51%) favour protecting gay and transgender people under existing laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Existing non-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender people in only 12 states and the District of Columbia, and eight other states’ laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.

* Nearly seven out of 10 US adults (69%) oppose laws that would ban qualified gay and lesbian couples from adopting children. In several states, gay and lesbian couples are banned from adopting.

“The visibility of the past several years, and the intense conversations of the past few weeks, seem to have galvanised a majority of Americans’ support of equality for gay and transgender Americans,” said GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano.

“While this expression of support is encouraging, particularly after the setbacks we experienced on Election Day, it’s not something we can rest on. There is a lot of work to be done.

“We must all do what we can to sustain and expand this emerging wave of grassroots activism so that it leads to laws and policies that extend full equality under the law to all Americans – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight.”

Mr Giuliano suggested that one of the crucial issues facing LGBT people is that many Americans aren’t aware of the injustices that they face.

“Majorities of Americans clearly favour equality for gay and transgender people, but we’ve seen that too many still mistakenly believe that the intolerance and injustices we face are things of the past.

“So it’s more vital than ever that we tell our stories, illustrate the injustices we face, and remind people of the common ground we share.”

President-elect Obama has said that after he takes office on January 20th he and Vice President-elect Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act.

He supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples and wants to repeal the Defence of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognised unions.

He also wants an end to the ban on openly gay people serving in the US Armed Forces, and said he would support federal protection in employment for LGBT people.

President-elect Obama has said he believes in adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Detailed information from the GLAAD survey:

Across the LGBT-related policy proposals, there were statistically significant differences in support with respect to age, gender, race/ethnicity and religion. People under 65, and especially those 18-34, were more supportive than people over 65.

Women were generally more supportive than men, with women age 18-34 often being more supportive than other segments.

Hispanics were more supportive than Whites and African-Americans in showing strong support for allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces.

African Americans were more strongly supportive than Whites and Hispanics of expanding existing hate crimes laws to cover gay and transgender people.

Mainline Christians (a category that includes, among other denominations, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians) and Catholics were more supportive than Evangelical Christians, and Mainline Christians were often among the more supportive segments on a variety of issues.

The survey also revealed that there has been greater acceptance of gay and lesbian Americans over the last five years.

Approximately two in 10 Americans (19%) reported that their feelings toward gay and lesbian people have become more favourable over the past five years, with contributing factors including: knowing someone who is gay or lesbian (79%), the fact that laws have been passed that protect gay and lesbian people (50%), opinions of family or friends (45%) and religious leaders (21%), news coverage of gay and lesbian issues (41%), and seeing gay or lesbian characters on television (34%) and in movies (29%).

Nearly three out of four Americans (73%) personally know or work with a gay or transgender person, and half of those who know or work with someone who is gay or transgender know five or more gay or transgender people.