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Religious Tolerance logo

Public opinion polls on lesbian. gay,
bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) matters

Problems measuring public opinion using polls

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About public opinion:

There is a massive division among the American public over matters relating to sexual orientation:

bullet 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.

bullet 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 component.

bullet Almost all religious liberals and progressives, secularists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other therapists have generally adopted the findings of sexuality researchers.

bullet Many mainline denominations are engaged in heated debates as their membership splits on homosexual topics between the liberal and conservative positions.

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.

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About public opinion polls:

Public opinion polls about homosexuality form a special class of questions:

bullet 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.

bullet 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?

bullet 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."

bullet 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.

bullet 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.

bullet 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.

bullet Both heterosexual and homosexual behavior takes many forms:
bullet rape,
bullet having an affair even though involved in a committed relationship,
bullet sexually-active dating,
bullet celibate dating, or
bullet 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 only an 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.

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Related essay:

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  1. "Christians, others split on two issues, survey finds," 2001-JUL-28, Religion News Service, at:
  2. "Canadian Perceptions of Homosexuality," Canadian Press / Leger Marketing, 2001-JUN, at: You need the above software to read these files as well. N = 1507. margin of error is ±2.6%
  3. "U.S. Public opinion polls on same-sex marriage," Marriage Equality New York, at:
  4. "Canadian Attitudes on the Family: Complete Report 2002," Focus on the Family Canada at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:

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

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Copyright © 2001 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-30
Latest update: 2003-MAY-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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