Gallup Poll: Tolerance for Gay Rights at High-Water Mark
The Gallup Poll released the results of its annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted each May, which shows some very interesting results about American views about homosexuality. Here are some highlights from the press release:
The clearest example of the recent renewal in pro-gay rights attitudes comes from a question asking Americans whether they believe homosexual relations should be legal. Public tolerance for this aspect of gay rights expanded from 43% at the inception of the question in 1977 to 60% in May 2003. Then in July 2003, it fell to 50% and remained at about that level through 2005. Last year, it jumped to 56% and this year it reached 59%, similar to the 2003 high point.
A similar pattern is seen with attitudes about whether homosexuality should be sanctioned as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Only 34% in 1982 believed it should be considered acceptable. This expanded to 54% in May 2003, only to drop to 46% two months later. Today's 57% is the highest on record for this measure.
The trend in public support for gay marriage also shows a long-term increase in pro-gay rights attitudes, with the current result being the most affirming on record for gays, though still the minority view.
(It should be noted that this gay-marriage question follows a number of questions about homosexual rights in Gallup's Values and Beliefs survey. When the same question is asked in other Gallup surveys that do not include such questions, a lower level of support for gay marriage is usually found.)
More generally, Americans' tolerance for gay rights currently ranges from 89% believing gays should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities, down to 46% saying marriages between same-sex couples should be as legally valid as traditional marriages.
Read it all.
The poll also found that, however, that tolerance for homosexuality does not necessarily mean that the public accepts homosexuality as "moral." The percentage saying such relations are morally acceptable has grown only modestly over the last several years, from 40% in 2001, when the question was first asked, to 47% today. This is the first year that an outright majority of Americans have not said homosexual relations are morally wrong.
In drilling down on attitudes, the Gallup poll found that views about homosexuality were determined by age, political affiliation and religious activity. For example, 75% of those 18-34 years old thought that homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle compared to 58% for those 35-54 years old, and 45% for those over 55. Only 36% of Republicans thought that homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle versus 72% of Democrats and 60% of Independents. Only 33% of those who attend worship services every week thought homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle versus 57% who worship nearly weekly or monthly and 74% who rarely or seldom attend worship services.
Finally, views on why people are gay or lesbian also affects attitudes:
Americans who believe homosexuals are born with their sexual orientation tend to be much more supportive of gay rights than are those who say homosexuality is due to upbringing and environment (and therefore, perhaps, more of a lifestyle choice).
Americans are closely divided today over which of the two explanations is correct: 42% say homosexuality is something a person is born with while 35% say it is due to factors such as upbringing and environment. The balance of public opinion on the question has shifted back and forth in recent years, but the long-term pattern shows a clear increase in the view that one's sexuality is determined at birth.
As noted, substantive attitudes about homosexual rights are closely related to views
on this question. For example, nearly four in five of those who believe homosexuality is congenital think it should be an acceptable lifestyle. By contrast, only 30% of those who think homosexuality is caused by environmental factors agree.
So what do we make of all this? I think that the big take away is that there has been a steady and consistent change in attitudes toward homosexuality in the past decade. The ago data suggests that this is a pattern that will continue.