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Public opinion polls on two key LGB questions

Can a person's sexual orientation be changed?
Are gay or
lesbian relations moral or immoral?

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The term "LGB" refers to the lesbian, gay, and bisexual, community.

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Ineffectiveness of reparative therapy or transformational ministries at "changing" gays:

Transformational ministries are typically conservative Christian groups devoted to changing the behaviors of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. More details. They typically interpret the Bible as teaching that God hates same-gender sexual behavior. Believing in the power of prayer, and in the power of God to change individuals, it is natural for them to assume that persons can change their sexual orientation, after some considerable effort. However, in practice, changing one's orientation appears to be somewhat like changing one's skin color or restoring an amputated limb. That is, it is very improbable.

A majority of the public now appears to agree that reparative therapy and transformational ministry is unable to "cure" homosexual or bisexual orientation:

  • As early as 1998-JUL-17, the McLaughlin Group conducted a public opinion poll via the Internet on the effectiveness of "love, understanding and the word of God" in converting a gay or lesbian to heterosexuality. 93% of the respondents believe that such techniques are ineffective in changing one's sexual orientation. 1 Unfortunately, the respondents to this poll were self-selected and thus almost certainly not representative of the general population, as subsequent polls have shown.

  • In 1998, a CNN/Time national poll found that only 36% of the population believed that sexual orientation cannot be changed.

  • In 2001, a CNN/USA Today/Time poll found that this number had increased to 45%.

  • In 2007-JUN, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that the number had increased to a majority of 56%. Meanwhile, 36% believe that they can change their sexual orientation; 8% have no opinion or did not answer.

  • In 2012-MAY, a CNN poll showed that 58% of respondents believe that a lesbian or gay person cannot change their sexual orientation; 34% believe that they can; 8% have no opinion.

Many professional organizations of psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors have recommended against involvement with reparative therapy and transformational ministries. These include the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Counseling Association, National Association of Social Workers in the USA, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Australian Psychological Society, and the Pan American Health Organization. However, it is strongly advocated by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and by many fundamentalist and other evangelical parachurch groups.

In 2003, Robert Spitzer published a study using a carefully selected group of very devout religious persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. Many were actively involved as leaders in reparative therapy/transformational ministry groups and were thus dedicated to the belief that these approaches can effect change. Results seemed to indicate that change was possible for some of these subjects. However, in 2012 Spitzer expressed his regrets for having published the article. He now judges "the major critiques of the study as largely correct." 7

During 2012, legislation was proposed in California to ban "conversion" therapy for teens, and to require adults to sign a release before undergoing reparative therapy. The bill passed its final Senate committee on 2012-MAY-08. The bill's author, Sen. Ted Lieu (D), said: "This therapy can be dangerous. ... [It can] cause extreme depression and guilt" that sometimes leads to suicide." The bill was subsequently passed and signed into law during 2012-SEP.

During mid-2012, Exodus International -- a conservative Protestant group that was the main agency promoting reparative therapy -- reversed its course and abandoned the therapy which they had promoted for many years.

In late 2012-DEC, the Southern Poverty Law Center -- a group that tracks hate groups in the U.S. -- initiated a lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) on behelf of four former clients and two of their mothers who claim that they paid thousands of dollars for useless therapy, and then had to pay more money for additional counseling to overcome the damage by JONAH. The agency describes itself as being:

"... dedicated to educating the worldwide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors that lead to same-sex attractions. ... [It} "... works directly with those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions." 9

We expect that during 2013 and later, these changes will greatly increase the public's acceptance that homosexual orientation in adults is unchangeable or essentially so.

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Is homosexual behavior morally acceptable?

This is a key question that has a profound influence on the public's beliefs about many other LGBT topics. For example, some people believe that all immoral activities should be criminalized. Others might think that faith groups and secular companies should have the religious freedom to discriminatinate against potential employees and/or customers who engage in what the employer regards as immoral acts. Still others might not be in favor of allowing loving, committed same-sex couples to marry if they feel that same-gender sexual activity is inherently immoral.

The Gallup® Organization has conducted an annual national survey of this topic in recent years. 8 Recent polls asked:

"Do you personally believe gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable or morally wrong?

In earlier years they used the phrase "homosexual behavior" (2001 to 2004) or "homosexual relations" (2006 to 2008) instead of "gay or lesbian relations." Avoidance of the term "homosexual" is probably an improvement because the term is considered a "snarl" word by some in the LGBT community.

Unfortunately, the survey question asked is almost meaningless. A person's answer might well depend upon to which precise group is being referred.

Most political and religious conservatives probably have no difficulty answering that it is always morally wrong. However, a substantial portion of the public probably believes that the morality of any sexual behavior depends upon the situation, the persons involved, what is being done, and the nature of the couple's relationship:

  • Some respondents might consider homosexual behavior by persons with a heterosexual orientation to be morally wrong; the same activity by persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation might be seen as acceptable.

  • Some might interpret the question as asking whether homosexual behavior by the respondent themselves is acceptable or not.

  • Others might interpret the question to refer to society at large, which is predominately heterosexual.

  • Others might assume that the question refers only to persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation who is sexually attracted to members of the same gender.

  • Some subjects might believe that the question is unanswerable because they would consider that:

    • Any manipulative, coercive or unsafe sex to be immoral and unacceptable, whereas;

    • Consensual, safe sex by two adults in private in a monogamous, committed relationship would be moral -- whether the couple is gay or straight.

Another ambiguity in the question is the type of "relations" being referred to. It may mean simple friendship, holding hands, being in a loving but sexually inactive relationship, engaging in same-gender sexual acts, or other behaviors.

Thus, homosexual behavior could be acceptable or not depending upon the circumstances, the persons involved, the nature of their relationship, and the activity. Unfortunately, answers such as "it depends upon the situation" are not usually allowed.

It is surprising that a polling organization as skilled as the Gallup Organization would create such a poorly worded question. One is left wondering what the results would be to a survey that asked: "Do you personally believe that it is acceptable or not acceptable for gays and lesbians to engage in same-gender sexual behavior?" Still, the surveys have some value because they ask essentially the same question yearly over a dozen years. The results give an indication of the trend in the U.S.

Typically, the surveys involve about 1,000 respondents chosen at random from all states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is typically ±3 percentage points.

Survey Date
Acceptable
Not acceptable
No opinion
2001
40%
53%
7
2002
38
55
7
2003
44
52
4
2004
42
54
4
2005
45
51
4
2006
44
51
5
2007
47
49
4
2008
48
48
4
2009
49
47
4
2010
52
43
5
2011
56
39
5
2012
54
42
4
2013
59
~37
~4

Gallup showed the results of their 2013-MAY survey, according to the age of the respondent:

  • 18 to 34 years-of-age: 74% regard "gay or lesbian relations" as "morally acceptable."
  • 35 to 54 years: 54%
  • 55 and older: 51% 11

Accceptance of same-gender sexual activity by lesbians, gays and bisexuals declines with age, as does the acceptance of same-sex marriage. The two topics appear to be related.

Approval of homosexual behavior by American adults appears to be steadily increasing. It reached parity in 2008, and now has a margin in favor of 12 percentage points. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults who are undecided is dropping steadily as the country becomes more polarized. 8

A annual rate of change in support averaging about 1 percentage point per year may seem very small. However, this rate is common for many moral questions. It is similar to the rate of change for the acceptance of interracial marriages during the latter decades of the 20th century.

However, a sudden change was observed by one polling agency, During 2011-SEP, LifeWay Research found that 44% of the persons sampled regarded that homosexual behavior is a sin. This dropped to 37% by 2012-NOV -- a reduction of 7 percentage points. (Margin of error is ±2.9%) 10 Among the persons sampled in 2011-SEP, the percentage of those who had no opinion was 13%; this rose to 17% in 2012-NOV. These data support the belief that a tipping point was reached in early 2011 in the public's belief concerning lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Other developments during this interval included:

Of considerable interest are the differences in the level of acceptance by various groups within the country. 8 For the 2012-MAY survey:

  • All respondents: 54% found "lesbian relations" to be "morally acceptable."

  • By gender:
    • 59% of women, and
    • 49% of men agreed.

  • By race:
    • 55% of Whites, and
    • 50% of Nonwhites agreed.

  • By age:
    • 65% of persons 18 to 34 years-of-age,
    • 55% of those 35 to 54, and
    • 46% of those 55 and older agreed. These data are important because they give an indication of future trends.

  • By region:
    • 62% of persons in the East,
    • 60% in the Midwest,
    • 58% in the West, and
    • 43% in the South agreed.

  • By religion:
    • 84% of non-Christians agreed. "Non-Christians" apparently include persons following a non-Christian religion, and those not affiliated with any religion.
    • 66% of Roman Catholics, and
    • 41% of Protestants.

  • By political affiliation:
    • 66% of Democrats,
    • 58% of Independents, and
    • 36% of Republicans agreed.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The McLaughlin Group's home page is at: http://www.mclaughlin.com. Poll data appears to be no longer available.
  2. "Poll majority: Gays' orientation can't change," CNN, 2007-JUN-27, at: http://articles.cnn.com/
  3. "Opinion Polls/Surveys," ProCon.org. 2007-JUN, at: http://borngay.procon.org/
  4. "CNN/ORC poll,"Turner.com, 2012-JUN-06, at: http://i2.cdn.turner.com  This is a PDF file.
  5. Hannah Dreier, "California may ban gay teen 'conversion' therapy," Associated Press, 2012-MAY-08, at: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/
  6. "Sexual orientation change efforts," Wikipedia, as on 2012-MAT-30 at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  7. "Attempts to change sexual orientation," UC Davis Psychology, 2012-MAY-18, at: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/
  8. Lydia Saad, "U.S. Acceptance of Gay/Lesbian Relations Is the New Normal. For third year, majority says gay/lesbian relations are morally acceptable," Gallup, 2012-MAY-14, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  9. Erik Eckholm, "Gay ‘Conversion Therapy’ Faces Test in Courts," The New York Times, 2012-NOV-27, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  10. "Survey: Less Americans Believe Homosexuality Is a Sin; Nation's View 'Evolving' With Obama's?," Christian Post, 30233-JAN-13, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
  11. Joy Wilke & Lydia Saad, "Older Americans' Moral Attitudes Changing," Gallup, 2013-JUN-03, at: http://www.gallup.com/

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How you got here:

Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Polls > here

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Copyright © 2001 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2013-JUN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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