Last edited: February 12, 2005

American Attitudes Toward Homosexuality Continue to Become More Tolerant

New Gallup Poll Shows Continuation of Slow, But Steady, Liberalization of Attitudes

Gallup News Service, June 4, 2001
Poll Releases

By Frank Newport

Key Point Summary

PRINCETON, NJ — A new Gallup poll reveals a continuation of a gradual, but to some degree steady, increase in the liberalization of American public opinion about homosexuality.

Americans still exhibit ambivalence about the overall acceptability of homosexuality in American society today, and substantial numbers of Americans continue to say that homosexual relations should be neither acceptable nor legal. But there have been changes in these attitudes over time.

Here are the key points from Gallup’s most recent poll on the topic, conducted in mid-May:

Gallup has recorded a gradual increase in adherence to the belief that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Agreement with this proposition has risen from 38% in 1992 to 52% today.

There has also been a shift in attitudes about the legality of homosexuality, with a majority of Americans — 54% — now saying that "homosexual relations between consenting adults" should be legal, compared to 43% who felt this way in 1977.

One of the more significant changes in American public opinion on gay and lesbian issues has been the increase in the perception that homosexuality is genetic — something a person is born with — as opposed to being due to other factors such as upbringing and environment. For the first time in 24 years, as many people in Gallup’s most recent poll say homosexuality is genetic as say it is environmental. This represents a major shift from 1977, when environment was seen as the more prevalent factor by more than a four-to-one ratio.

In terms of specific issues, a majority of Americans remain opposed to the extension of marriage benefits to gay and lesbian partners joined in civil unions.

About four out of 10 Americans think that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to work as members of the clergy or as elementary school teachers. However, only minorities of Americans are uncomfortable with gays and lesbians having a number of other professions and jobs tested in the research.

Over 80% of Americans accept the idea of including homosexuals under the protection of equal opportunity provisions in the workplace.

Findings in Detail

Basic Issues: Should Homosexuality be Legal?

Gallup first asked about the legality of homosexuality in 1977, with a basic question worded as follows: "Do you think homosexual relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal?" At that point, Americans were evenly divided on the issue: 43% said yes, 43% said no and 14% weren’t sure.

Gallup has asked the question numerous times since then, and at the last asking in the May 2001 poll, a majority — for the first time — agreed with the "legal" perspective. Fifty-four percent of those interviewed said that homosexual relations should be legal, 42% not legal, with 4% unsure. The percentage saying that homosexual relations should be legal dropped to as low as 32% in 1986, perhaps due to either the conservative environment ushered in by the Reagan administration, or the beginning of widespread publicity surrounding AIDS and its prevalence in the homosexual community.

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

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