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Public opinion polls on LGBT matters

Should same-gender sexual behavior be legal?
What causes sexual orientation?
Protection against job discrimination.

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The term "LGBT" refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual community.

This topic is an continuation of the previous essay

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Should private, adult same-gender sexual behavior be legal or criminalized?

The Gallup Organization has conducted another useful poll annually in recent years. 1 They ask "Do you think homosexual relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal?

According to the Associated Press, sodomy laws remained on the books in 13 states as of the end of 2002. "Sodomy" was illegal for everyone -- gay and straight; married or not -- in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. In addition, four contiguous states, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, criminalized certain forms of sexual behavior between persons of the same gender, but permit them if performed by a man and woman. All of these laws were invalidated by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas during mid-2003. By a 5 to 4 ruling, the Court stated that consensual activities by adults in private cannot be criminalized by states even if many people considered the behavior to be immoral .

Gallup has been polling American adults since 1977 to learn their opinion about the criminalization of homosexual activity:

Date
Legal
Not legal
No opinion
1977-JUN
43%
43
14
1982-JUN
45
39
16
1985-NOV
44
47
9
1986-JUL
32
57
11
1986-SEP
33
54
13
1987-MAR
33
55
12
1988-JUL
35
57
11
1989-OCT
47
36
17
1992-JUN
48
44
8
1996-NOV
47
47
9
1999-FEB
50
43
7
2001-MAY
54
42
4
2002-MAY
52
43
5
2003-MAY
60
35
5
2005-MAY
56
40
4
2009-MAY
58
36
6
2012-MAY
63
31
6

Polls on most homosexuality topics show a gradual acceptance of lesbians, gays and bisexuals over time. The question of whether to legalize or criminalize homosexual behavior shows a curious anomaly. In the early 1980s, acceptance of homosexual behavior took a nosedive and did not recover until sometime between mid 1988 and the fall of 1989. The Gallup Organization attributes this temporary reversal to either the "conservative environment ushered in by the Reagan administration, or the beginning of widespread publicity surrounding AIDS..." AIDS was widely believed to be a gay male disease, even though most people that are HIV positive obtain it from an opposite-sex partner.

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Is sexual orientation caused by genes, the environment, or both, or neither?

The Gallup Organization has repeatedly conducted polls on what people believe to be the cause(s) of sexual orientation. Gallup pollsters switch alternately between two questions:

  • "In your view, is being gay or lesbian something a person is born with?"

  • "In your view, is being gay or lesbian due to factors such as upbringing and environment?

In earlier polls, they accepted "yes," "no," "both," or "neither" as valid answers. This is a properly worded question -- one that covers all of the bases. However, in recent years they seem to have restricted the allowable answers, and thus made the poll much less useful. 2

Date
Born with
Upbringing / Environment
Both
Neither
No Opinion
1977-JUN
13%
56%
14%
3%
14%
1982-JUN
17
52
13
2
16
1989-OCT
19
48
12
2
19
1996-NOV
31
40
13
3
13
1998-JUN
31
47
6
3
13
1999-FEB
34
44
13
1
8
2001-MAY
40
39
9
3
9
2002-MAY
40
36
12
4
8
2003-MAY
38
44
11
2
5
2006-MAR
38
44
13
not an option
5
2007-MAY
42
35
not an option
not an option
23
2009
35
42
not an option
not an option-
23
2011
40
42
not an option
not an option
18
2012
40
35
not an option
not an option
25
2013-MAY
47
33
not an option
not an option
20 8

Margin of error is generally ±3 to 5 percentage points.

The above data is much easier to visualize on the following graph:

Graphical display of Gallup data 8

There has been a surge in belief by 7 percentage between 2011 and 2013 that sexual orientation is present at birth. There has also been a drop of 9 percentage points over the same interval in the belief that sexual orientation is caused by upbringing or environment. As one might expect, white, male, conservatives and Republicans, with high school or less education, who attend church weekly are far more likely to choose environment over pre-birth factors. 8

The Opinion Research Corporation conducted a poll on 2007-JUN-27: 2

Date
Born with
Upbringing / Environment
Both
Neither
No Opinion
2007-JUN 39% 42% 10% 3 6

Barna Research conducted a similar poll during 2001-MAY. They found:

Date
Born with
Upbringing / Environment
No Opinion
2001-MAY
34
49
17

These polling questions are particularly interesting, because the question has actually been settled by studies of identical twins separated at birth and raised in different families. Data shows that sexual orientation is primarily genetically determined, but appears to rely on some unknown environmental trigger after conception but before school-age which may or may not be triggered. The Barna poll and more recent Gallup polls assumed that the "cause" of homosexuality is either purely genetics or always due to the environment. They didn't consider the possibility that it might be caused by both factors interacting in each individual. 1,3,4

In 2001, Barna Research also determined that 85% of Evangelicals, 61% of born-again adults, and 65% of those who attend conservative Protestant churches believe that a person chooses to be a homosexual. 5 These data have probably decreased substantially since then.

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Why is this important?

To our knowledge, one topic that has never been studied in depth is the family dynamic triggered when a lesbian or gay teen comes "out of the closet" and openly reveals their sexual orientation to other family members. We suspect that the outcome of this event depends greatly on the parents' beliefs about the "cause" of a homosexual orientation.

"Coming out" is a critical event in the life of a gay or lesbian youth. It is generally acknowledged that about 25% of such youth find themselves ejected from the house, disowned, and kicked to the curb. It is a well established fact that a large percentage of homeless gay youth -- approaching 40% -- in the U.S. are gay or lesbian. The highest number that we have seen is 43% in Salt Lake City, UT. Since only about 5% of the teen and adult population are gay or lesbian, then lesbian and gay youth are drastically overrepresented among homeless youth.

A "National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth who are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless" 8 found that:

  • 46% had run away from home because their family rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • 43% were forced out by parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It would seem reasonable that if parents regard:

  • homosexual orientation to be a freely-made choice,

and also that

  • same-gender sexual behavior is a very serious sin,

then they would probably conclude that their child actively chose to engage in sinful behavior; they might well be very deeply offended. On the other hand, if the parents regarded sexual orientation to be largely or completely pre-determined at the time of birth, then they would likely be far more tolerant of their child's sexual orientation, since they would view it as being outside of the child's control. Since homelessness has extremely negative effects in the areas of educational attainment, physical health, mental health, and even suicide, we feel that this family dynamic is a topic that is badly in need of research.

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Equal job opportunities for gays and lesbians:

The Gallup Organization has conducted polls since 1977, asking the question:

"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?"

With one minor exception, the results show a continually increasing preference by the pubic to end discrimination against gays and lesbians, at least in the area of employment: 7

Date
Given equal access Not given equal access No opinion
1977-JUN
56% 33 11
1982-JUN
59 28 13
1989-OCT
71 18 11
1992-JUN
74 18 8
1993-APR
80 14 6
1996-NOV
84 12 4
1999-FEB
83 13 4
2001-MAY
85 11 4
2002-MAY
86 11 3
2003-MAY
88 10 2
2004-MAY
89 8 3
2005-MAY
87 11 2
2006-MAY
89 9 2
2007-MAY
89 8 3
2008-MAY
89 8 3

In their 2003 survey, Gallup News Service commented:

"... there is a gap between the 60% of the public saying that homosexual relations should be legal, and the 88% saying that homosexuals should have equal rights in the workplace. These two questions may play to different norms that exist in contemporary America. The legality question may tap into a general sense of morality, and a reluctance of a more conservative segment of society to sanction what they consider to be deviant behavior. The question about equal opportunity, on the other hand, may invoke the public's attitudes about discrimination, fair play, and equal treatment." 6

When asked in 2001-MAY, whether gays and lesbians should be hired for various occupations, responses varied by profession. 91% of the public believed, that homosexuals should be hired as salespersons without discrimination. But this dropped to 56% for elementary school teachers and 54% for clergy.  72% felt that gays should be allowed to openly serve in the armed forces; 23% were opposed. This compared with 57% and 37% in 1992. 1,3

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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. "Six out of 10 Americans Say Homosexual Relations Should Be Recognized as Legal," The Gallup Organization, 2003-MAY-15, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  2. "Polls and surveys on 'born gay'," Born Gay ProCon, at: http://www.borngayprocon.org/
  3. "Americans remain more likely to believe sexual orientation due to environment, not genetics," Gallup Poll Archives, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  4. "Gallup poll topics: A-Z: Homosexual relations," at: http://www.gallup.com/
  5. "Born-again adults remain firm in opposition to abortion and gay marriage," Barna Research, at: http://www.barna.org/
  6. Frank Newport, "Six out of 10 Americans say homosexual relations should be recognized as legal," Gallup News Service, 2003-MAY-15, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  7. Lydia Saad, "Americans evenly divided on morality of homosexuality," Gallup, 2008-JUN-18, at: http://www.barna.org/
  8. Zack Ford, "STUDY: 40 Percent Of Homeless Youth Are LGBT, Family Rejection Is Leading Cause," Think Progress, 2012-JUL-12, at: http://thinkprogress.org/

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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 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2013-JUN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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