Public opinion polls on lesbian. gay,
bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) matters
Problems measuring public opinion using polls
About public opinion:
There is a massive division among the American public
over matters relating to sexual orientation:
Religious conservatives have traditionally believed that homosexual
behavior is chosen, changeable, unnatural, abnormal, and a sin which is
hated by God. It is caused by poor parenting.
Human sexuality researchers who have studied sexual orientation have
concluded that all three orientations (heterosexual, bisexual and
homosexual) are not chosen; they are unchangeable, natural, and normal. At
least for male gays, a homosexual orientation has
been proven to have a very strong genetic
Almost all religious liberals and progressives, secularists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other
therapists have generally adopted the findings of sexuality researchers.
Many mainline denominations are engaged in heated debates as their
membership splits on homosexual topics between the liberal and
The public is slowly shifting towards acceptance of a homosexual
orientation as normal and natural for a minority of adults. Increasingly,
Americans support equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to
marry or enter into civil unions.
George Barna is the president of Barna Research Group -- probably the
largest polling organization that specializes in the religious field. He
noted that many church-goers hold more liberal positions than those taught
by their own faith group. He said: "Increasingly, we find that the
positions on moral issues that are taught from the pulpit are not
necessarily views embraced by regular attenders of those churches. Most
congregations exhibit a diversity of opinion on doctrinal and moral matters
that would shock the average pastor." 1
Barna Research has concluded: "We seem to be on the precipice of a
moral showdown in which the Christian moral foundations are being challenged
by the growing proportion of Americans who have embraced non-Christian faith
traditions." Others might argue that the division is not between
Christians and non-Christians. It is mainly between religious conservatives
of all faiths holding
one set of beliefs, while religious liberals, and those with no religious affiliation hold an opposing set.
About public opinion polls:
Public opinion polls about
homosexuality form a special class of questions:
The nature of homosexuality, whether it is determined by genes or
environment or both, whether it is chosen or not chosen, whether it can be
changed or is fixed can only be determined by basic research into human sexuality.
Polls will not decide the answers to these questions. The opinion of the public will not change reality.
Should equal rights for a minority only be granted if the majority is
in agreement? There
have been times in the past when the majority of Americans (at least in
some areas of the country) would probably have wished to deprive Roman
Catholics, non-Puritans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, inter-faith
couples, Pagans, and Native Americans of equal rights. But is violating the basic
principle of "liberty and justice for all" acceptable, simply
because a majority wishes to discriminate against a minority?
It is extremely difficult to assess the opinions of the public on
homosexuality, abortion and other hot religious
topics. That is because religious conservatives often assign unique meanings to ordinary words. This
makes it difficult for the pollsters to form meaningful questions.
Consider a Barna Research poll which asked subjects whether they felt that
homosexuality was "an acceptable lifestyle."
Some gay-positive subjects might be accepting of persons of all
sexual orientations. But they might answer "no" to the question for the
simple reason that they do not regard either homosexuality,
heterosexuality, or bisexuality to be a lifestyle. They look upon
homosexuality as a sexual orientation, not a behavior.
Some may be accepting of all sexual orientations. But some
heterosexuals might answer "no" to the question because they interpret
the question as asking whether a homosexual "lifestyle" is OK for
themselves to live personally. They might believe that a homosexual
"lifestyle" is OK for homosexuals but not for themselves.
A poll using the term "homosexual orientation" would be equally
confusing to some of the public -- those who do not recognize the
existence of sexual orientations.
Both heterosexual and homosexual behavior takes many forms:
having an affair even though involved in a committed relationship,
celibate dating, or
being in a monogamous, committed relationship.
These five behaviors might be described as "lifestyles." But the
public would probably find some of these lifestyles far much more
acceptable than others, for persons with a homosexual orientation.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a poll that has asked
questions of this depth.
Of particular interest are polls that show results by
age. They would give some indication of the direction in which American
public opinion is changing. Unfortunately, such polls are rare. Most give
average value for all Americans at one point in time. Also of interest would
be a set of polls that asked the identical questions in the U.S., Canada, UK
and other countries.