Tolerance for Gay Rights at High-Water Mark

by Lydia Saad

Public evenly divided over whether homosexuality is morally acceptable or wrong

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted each May, finds current public tolerance for gay rights at the high-water mark of attitudes recorded over the past three decades. There is still considerable public opposition to complete equality for gays, particularly with respect to marriage. However, after several years of lower support for gay rights, support is now springing back to the relatively high levels seen in 2003, just before the Supreme Court's June 26, 2003, decision striking down a Texas sodomy law. (According to Gallup trends, that ruling appeared to produce a backlash of public opposition to gay rights.)

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.

Spectrum of Support for Gay Rights^
May 10-13, 2007

Yes

No

%

%

Homosexuals should have equal rights
in terms of job opportunities

89

8

Homosexual relations should be legal

59

37

Homosexuality should be considered
an acceptable alternative lifestyle

57

39

Homosexual relations are morally acceptable

47

49

Same-sex marriages should be legally valid

46

53

^ See tables for full wording of each item/question.

Morality Question Closely Divides Americans

Results on the perceived morality of homosexual relations present a glass half-full/half-empty analysis conundrum. On the one hand, the percentage saying such relations are morally acceptable has clearly grown 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.

On the other hand, gay rights clearly remain one of a handful of highly controversial issues among the roster of social issues on the public's agenda -- about as divisive as doctor-assisted suicide and abortion. By contrast, a solid majority of Americans agree that the death penalty, divorce, embryonic stem-cell research, and premarital sex are morally acceptable, and even larger majorities agree that other actions, such as extramarital affairs, polygamy, cloning humans, and suicide, are morally unacceptable.

Summary of Moral Acceptability Ratings
May 10-13, 2007

 

Morally
acceptable

Morally
wrong

%

%

The death penalty

66

27

Divorce

65

26

Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos

64

30

Gambling

63

32

Medical testing on animals

59

37

Sex between an unmarried man and woman

59

38

Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur

58

38

Having a baby outside of marriage

54

42

Doctor-assisted suicide

49

44

Homosexual relations

47

49

Abortion

40

51

Cloning animals

36

59

Suicide

16

78

Cloning humans

11

86

Polygamy, when one husband has more than one wife at the same time

8

90

Married men and women having an affair

6

91

Generational, Political, and Religious Divides

Gallup has historically found that one's age, religiosity, and political party affiliation are all strong determinants of Americans' support for gay rights; gender also relates, but to a lesser degree. The vast majority of all of these groups believe gays should have equal job rights, but major differences are seen with respect to the perceived legality of homosexual relations, whether homosexuality should be an acceptable alternative lifestyle, whether it is morally acceptable, and whether same-sex marriages should be legally valid.

This table summarizes these demographic distinctions for the issue of whether homosexuality should be an acceptable alternative lifestyle.

Homosexuality as an Acceptable
Alternative Lifestyle

May 10-13, 2007

 

Yes

No

%

%

Men

53

44

Women

61

35

 

 

18-34 years

75

23

35-54 years

58

39

55+ years

45

51

 

 

Republican

36

58

Independent

60

36

Democrat

72

27

 

 

Worship services

 

 

Attend weekly

33

64

Attend nearly weekly/monthly

57

40

Attend less often/never

74

22

Nature vs. Nurture

The nature vs. nurture argument about the origin of homosexuality has been an important element of the gay rights debate over the years, and it is clear why. 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.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 10-13, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 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.

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

 

Should
be legal

Should not
be legal

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

59

37

4

 

 

 

2006 May 8-11 ^

56

40

4

2005 Aug 22-25

49

44

7

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

^ Asked of a half sample

 
22. 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?
 

 

Yes,
should

No,
should not

DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

89

8

1

2

 

 

 

 

2006 May 8-11 ^

89

9

1

1

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

^ Asked of a half sample

† 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?

 
23. In your view, is homosexuality -- [ROTATED: something a person is born with, (or is homosexuality) due to factors such as upbringing and environment]?
 

 

Born
with

Upbringing/
Environ-
ment

BOTH
(vol.)

NEITHER
(vol.)

No
opin-
ion

%

%

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

42

35

11

2

9

 

 

 

 

 

2006 May 8-11 ^

42

37

11

2

8

2005 May 2-5

38

44

10

2

6

2004 May 2-4

37

41

11

3

8

2003 May 5-7

38

44

11

2

5

2002 May 6-9

40

36

12

4

8

2001 May 10-14

40

39

9

3

9

1999 Feb 8-9

34

44

13

1

8

1996 Nov 21-24

31

40

13

3

13

1989 Oct 12-15

19

48

12

2

19

1982 Jun 25-28

17

52

13

2

16

1977 Jun 17-20

13

56

14

3

15

(vol.) = Volunteered response

^ Asked of a half sample

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

 

Acceptable

Not
acceptable

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

57

39

3

 

 

 

2006 May 8-11 ^

54

41

4

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

25. 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]?

2007 May 10-13
(sorted by "morally acceptable")

Morally
acceptable

Morally
wrong

%

%

The death penalty

66

27

Divorce

65

26

Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos

64

30

Gambling

63

32

Medical testing on animals

59

37

Sex between an unmarried man and woman

59

38

Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur

58

38

Having a baby outside of marriage

54

42

Doctor assisted suicide

49

44

Homosexual relations

47

49

Abortion

40

51

Cloning animals

36

59

Suicide

16

78

Cloning humans

11

86

Polygamy, when one husband has more than one wife at the same time

8

90

Married men and women having an affair

6

91

  1. Homosexual relations

 

Morally
accept-
able


Morally
wrong

DEPENDS
ON
SITUATION
(vol.)

NOT A
MORAL
ISSUE
(vol.)

No
opin-
ion

%

%

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

47

49

2

*

2

 

 

 

 

 

2006 May 8-11

44

51

1

1

2

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

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) = Volunteered response

^ Asked of a half sample

† WORDING: Homosexual behavior

26. Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

 

Should
be valid

Should not
be valid

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

46

53

1

 

 

 

2006 May 8-11 †

42

56

2

2006 May 8-11 ^†

39

58

4

2005 Aug 22-25 ^

37

59

4

2004 May 2-4 ^

42

55

3

1999 Feb 8-9 ^

35

62

3

1996 Mar 15-17 ^

27

68

5

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

† Asked of a half sample

Trends for Comparison : Polls in which gay marriage question NOT preceded by question(s) on homosexual rights and relations

 

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

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27694/tolerance-gay-rights-highwater-mark.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030