Every May the Gallup Poll people do a survey on Americans’ Acceptance of Gay Relations. This year they conducted telephone interviews with 1, 029 American adults but the report of the survey results was lost amid the press coverage of the oil spill. The one exception was Charles M. Blow, a New York Times Op-Ed contributor, who, on June 5, 2010 wrote Whatever Dude summarizing the survey findings.
For the first time in their ten years of conducting this poll, acceptance of gay relations (whatever that means) has crossed the 50% line among those polled. 52% of Americans feel gay/lesbian relations are morally acceptable. 43% feel such relationships are wrong.
Surprisingly, for the first time, the percentage of men holding an acceptability view is greater than the percent of women. 53% of men found gay/lesbian relationships acceptable as opposed to 51% of women. The greatest opinion change was by men in the 18 to 49 year group, up 20% compared to 2006 data. Older men registered an increase of 9%. Younger women had only a 4% increase and women past 50 a 2% increase in finding gay relationships “morally acceptable” compared to the data of 2006.
Analysis of the same 2010 vs 2006 data shows a 5% increase among Republicans, an 11% increase among Independents and a 9% increase among Democrats who now find gay/lesbian relationships “morally acceptable.” Slicing the pie by religious affiliation there’s a 6% increase among Protestants, a 16% increase among Catholics, a 7% increase among respondents listed as “other non-Christian,” and an 11% increase among “no-religion” respondents.
Same-sex marriage was not included in the poll but 58% of respondents felt that relations between gay and lesbian consenting adults should be legal. The survey question which showed the least change was, “In your view is being gay or lesbian something a person is born with or due to factors such as upbringing and environment—or both. 36% said “born with;” 37% said “upbringing and environment,” while 12% said “both.” Those numbers have changed little in the past decade.
The Gallup “bottom line” of this polling effort is, “There is a gradual cultural shift underway in Americans’ views toward gay individuals and gay rights. While public attitudes haven’t moved consistently in gays’ and lesbians’ favor every year, the general trend is in that direction.”
Most of us already knew that, but it’s nice to have it quantified.
Why these numbers keep trending up, and particularly why there was such an increase in the acceptability of gay relationships among men, is puzzling. But two leading academics, Dr. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, Professor and chair of Human Development at Cornell University, provided some plausible ideas for the Times article.
“As more men openly acknowledge that they are gay, it becomes harder for men who are not gay to discriminate against them.” Furthermore, since celebrities, soldiers, athletes, politicians are now on the record as being gay, the old limp-wrist stereotypes lose their impact. A previous Gallup poll found that people who personally knew someone gay or lesbian were more likely to be accepting of gays and lesbians and their issues. This simply emphasizes the need for all gay men and lesbian women to come out to family and friends whenever possible.
Another possibility for the greater acceptance among the men surveyed is that the acceptance of diversity in general has been speeded by the feminist and civil rights movements. The dire predictions which accompanied these social changes early on have not come true. In fact men have acknowledged the value of these changes.
A third possibility for the change in men’s attitudes may be a reaction to the Ted Haggards, Larry Craigs, and George Rekers of the world. “Virulent homophobes are increasingly being exposed for engaging in homosexuality.” Straight men are now aware that Hamlet had it right, “Me thinks thou doth protest too much.” The stridency of some homophobes may be a reaction to their own homosexual impulses and a signal to the general population to read between the lines. Being anti-gay is no longer cool.
Dr. Savin-Williams also points out that in his research “the fastest-growing group along the sexuality continuum are men who identify as ‘mostly straight.’” These men acknowledge some level of attraction to other men even though they probably wouldn’t act on it. Then again, on the right night, with a few beers, anything’s possible. What’s startling, as Dr. Savin-Williams points out, is that “you would never have heard that in years past.”
So, like Paul Revere, let’s keep Galluping on.
John Siegfried, a former Rehoboth resident, lives in Ft. Lauderdale. He can be reached at email@example.com.