Gay Rights Attitudes a Mixed Bag

by Lydia Saad

Broad support for equal job rights, but not for gay marriage

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Though Americans have grown increasingly tolerant of homosexuality over the past three decades, U.S. public opinion on the subject is still ambiguous. Most Americans believe homosexuals deserve equal rights in the workplace, but people are closely divided over whether homosexuality is an acceptable way of life. Barely half believe homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal, and a majority says such relations are immoral. Fewer than half want to see gay marriages legally sanctioned.

According to Gallup trends, by the late 1990s public attitudes toward homosexuals had advanced considerably compared with the 1970s, and even with the early 1990s. The percentage saying homosexuals should have equal job opportunities grew from 56% in 1977 to 74% in 1992 and to 88% by 2003. Similarly, the percentage saying homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle was only 34% in 1982 and 38% in 1992, but expanded to 50% by 1999.

However, that progression has largely stalled in the last few years. Today, the percentage saying the homosexual lifestyle should be considered acceptable remains at just 51%, while 45% say it should not be acceptable.

Similarly, there has been little movement since 2001 in the percentage saying they personally believe homosexual relations are morally acceptable. Since 2001, that figure has averaged 42%, and stands at 44% today. A slim majority of Americans -- ranging between 52% and 55% -- have consistently said that homosexual relations are morally wrong.

Much Resistance to Homosexuals in the Clergy, as Teachers

Even though Americans say homosexuals should have equal job rights, generally, they make sharp distinctions among the types of professions homosexuals should be hired for. Three-quarters or more say homosexuals should be hired as salespersons, doctors, in the armed forces, and for the president's cabinet; a majority believes they should be hired as high school teachers. But there is substantial resistance for having homosexuals employed as members of the clergy or as grade school teachers. Though a slim majority believes homosexuals should serve as grade school teachers, more than 4 in 10 Americans think they should not. Americans are evenly divided over homosexuals in the clergy.

 

Should Homosexuals Be Hired for These Professions?

 

Yes

No

 

%

%

Salesperson

90

7

Doctors

78

19

The armed forces

76

22

As a member of the president's cabinet

75

23

High school teachers

62

36

Elementary school teachers

54

43

Clergy

49

47

Gallup recorded significant movement in these occupation trends between 1992 and 1999, with public support expanding for homosexuals being employed in most of these professions. But as with other indicators, these figures have changed relatively little over the past six years.

Not helping matters for gay rights advocates is that recent scandals in the Catholic Church over priests sexually abusing young boys may have spilled over into attitudes about homosexuals serving as teachers or clergy. Between 2003 and 2005, Gallup recorded seven-point declines in the percentage saying homosexuals should be hired as clergy (from 56% to 49%), and in the percentage saying homosexuals should be hired as elementary teachers (from 61% to 54%). There has been a five-point decline (from 67% to 62%) in the percentage saying homosexuals should be hired as high school teachers. At the same time, there were smaller (and not statistically significant) declines in support for hiring homosexuals as doctors, members of the president's cabinet, in the armed forces, and as salespersons.

Changes in Support for Homosexuals in Different Professions

 

 


Doctors

President's cabinet

Armed forces

H.S. teachers

Elem. teachers

Sales-
persons


Clergy

 

 %

%

%

%

%

%

%

Change since 2003

-4

-4

-4

-5

-7

-2

-7

               

2005 May 2-5

78

75

76

62

54

90

49

2003 May 19-21

82

79

80

67

61

92

56

2001 May 10-14

78

75

72

63

56

91

54

1999 Feb 8-9

75

74

70

61

54

90

54

1996 Nov 21-24

69

71

65

60

55

90

53

1992 Jun 4-8

53

54

57

47

41

82

43

Public Frowns on Gay Marriage

President George W. Bush has called for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thereby superseding state and local laws that permit gay marriage. According to a Gallup Poll taken in late April, Americans tend to agree with Bush on this issue. The majority says that marriages between homosexuals should not be recognized as legally valid; only 39% say they should be valid.

Similarly, a slim majority favors a constitutional amendment that would bar marriages between gay or lesbian couples. Public opinion about this has been relatively stable since Gallup first asked the question in 2003.

While gays battle for the right to marry, it might surprise some to know that, more fundamentally, barely half of Americans believe that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal. This attitude has changed relatively little since 1977 when 43% supported homosexual relations being legal. While this figure peaked at 60% in 2003, it stands at only 52% today.

"Gay" Label Elicits More Support Than "Homosexual"

As with many issues, public opinion about homosexuality can be influenced by nuances of question wording. In a split-sample experiment, Gallup tested alternative terms for referencing gay Americans and found that the wording used does make some difference. Referencing this population as "gays and lesbians" results in somewhat more favorable, pro-gay responses than does using the term "homosexuals."

Specifically, the percentage of Americans saying that this population should be hired as high school and elementary teachers is 9 to 10 points higher when the question is asked about "gays and lesbians" rather than "homosexuals."

34/35. Do you think [Q.34: homosexuals/Q.35: gays and lesbians] should or should not be hired for each of the following occupations? First, ... Next, ... [RANDOM ORDER]?

 

2005 May 2-5
(sorted by "should")


Homosexuals

Gays and
Lesbians

Difference,
in Pct. Pts.

 

%

%

 

Salesperson

90

93

+3

Doctors

78

81

+3

The armed forces

76

79

+3

As a member of the president's cabinet

75

78

+3

High school teachers

62

71

+9

Elementary school teachers

54

64

+10

Clergy

49

53

+4

There is no significant difference between the percentage of Americans favoring equal job opportunities for "gays and lesbians" (90%) than for "homosexuals" (87%), but this is most likely because support is almost universal on this item, and has little room for expansion.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-5, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 516 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 489 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

31. Do you think homosexual relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal?

 

Should be legal

Should not
be legal

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

52

43

5

2004 May 2-4

52

43

5

2004 Jan 9-11

46

49

5

2003 Jul 25-27

48

46

6

2003 Jul 18-20

50

44

6

2003 May 19-21

59

37

4

2003 May 5-7

60

35

5

2002 May 6-9

52

43

5

2001 May 10-14

54

42

4

1999 Feb 8-9

50

43

7

1996 Nov 21-24

44

47

9

1992 Jun 4-8

48

44

8

1989 Oct 12-15

47

36

17

1988 Jul 1-7

35

57

11

1987 Mar 14-18

33

55

12

1986 Sep 13-17

33

54

13

1986 Jul 11-14

32

57

11

1985 Nov 11-18

44

47

9

1982 Jun 25-28

45

39

16

1977 Jun 17-20

43

43

14

32. As you may know, there has been considerable discussion in the news regarding the rights of homosexual men and women. In general, do you think homosexuals should or should not have equal rights in terms of job opportunities?

BASED ON 516 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

 

Yes, should

No,
should not

DEPENDS
(vol.)

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

87

11

1

1

         

2004 May 2-4 †

89

8

1

2

2003 May 19-21

88

10

1

1

2003 May 5-7

88

9

2

1

2002 May 6-9

86

11

1

2

2001 May 10-14

85

11

3

1

1999 Feb 8-9

83

13

2

2

1996 Nov 21-24

84

12

2

2

1993 Apr 22-24

80

14

--

6

1992 Jun 4-7

74

18

--

8

1989 Oct 12-15

71

18

--

11

1982 Jun 25-28

59

28

--

13

1977 Jun 17-20

56

33

--

11

(vol.) = Volunteered response

† WORDING: As you may know, there has been considerable discussion in the news regarding the rights of homosexual men and women. In general, do you think homosexuals should or should not have equal rights in terms of job opportunities?

37. Do you feel that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle or not?

BASED ON 516 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

 

Acceptable

Not acceptable

No opinion

 

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

51

45

4

       

2004 May 2-4

54

42

4

2003 Jul 25-27

46

49

5

2003 May 5-7

54

43

3

2002 May 6-9

51

44

5

2001 May 10-14

52

43

5

1999 Feb 8-9 ^

50

46

4

1997 Apr 18-20 ^

42

52

6

1996 Mar 15-17 ^

44

50

6

1992 Jun 4-8

38

57

5

1982 Jun 25-28

34

51

15

^ Asked of half sample

39. Next, I'm going to read you a list of issues. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

Q. Homosexual relations

BASED ON 516 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

 


Morally acceptable


Morally
wrong

DEPENDS
ON SITU-
ATION (vol.)

NOT A MORAL
ISSUE
(vol.)


No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

44

52

2

*

2

2004 May 2-4 ^

42

54

1

1

2

2003 May 5-7 ^

44

52

2

*

2

2002 May 6-9 ^

38

55

2

1

4

2001 May 10-14 ^

40

53

3

1

3

(vol.) = Volunteered response

* Less than 0.5%

^ WORDING: Homosexual behavior

24. Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

BASED ON 492 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Should be
valid

Should not
be valid

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

2005 Apr 29-May 1

39

56

5

       

2005 Mar 18-20 ^

28

68

4

2004 Jul 19-21 ^

32

62

6

2004 Mar 5-7

33

61

6

2004 Feb 16-17

32

64

4

2004 Feb 6-8 ^

36

59

5

2003 Dec 15-16

31

65

4

2003 Oct 24-26

35

61

4

2003 Jun 27-29

39

55

6

2000 Jan 13-16

34

62

4

^ Asked of a half sample

Trends for Comparison: Polls in which gay marriage question asked following questions on homosexual rights and relations

 

Should be
valid

Should not
be valid

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

2004 May 2-4

42

55

3

1999 Feb 8-9

35

62

3

1996 Mar 15-17

27

68

5

25. Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus barring marriages between gay or lesbian couples?

BASED ON 514 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 Apr 29-May 1

53

44

3

2005 Mar 18-20

57

37

6

2004 Jul 19-21 ^

48

46

6

2004 May 2-4

51

45

4

2004 Mar 5-7

50

45

5

2004 Feb 9-12

53

44

3

2004 Feb 6-8 ^

47

47

6

2003 Jul 18-20

50

45

5

^ Asked of a half sample

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