More Americans than ever believe gay and lesbian identity is something you’re born with, according to new polling data from Gallup.
In its annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 2-7, Gallup asked a random sample of 1,535 adults aged 18 and older from across all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia:
In your view, is being gay or lesbian something a person is born with or due to factors such as upbringing and environment?
For the first time ever, 47% of Americans opted for homosexuality being a birth trait while 33% said environment and upbringing played at least some part. This 14% gap is the biggest difference Gallup has measured to date and is a marked change on 2011 figures, which saw the general public about evenly divided on this question.
Gallup first asked an equivalent question in 1977 when the vast consensus among Americans was that being gay was a learned, and deviant, behavior that posed a public health and morality risk.
Despite a slow encroachment from the gay at birth idea, the next two and a half decades saw little change in the environmental focus but, noticeably, did see a softening in the attitude of gay people being a threat.
Between 2003-2005, Americans became more divided but were still leaning toward environmental factors. The period 2006-2008 shows the weight shift slightly, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the Values and Beliefs poll demonstrated a concerted change toward a belief that people are born attracted to the same sex.
Now, a plurality of Americans across nearly all major demographics believe this. This includes just under half of men and 53% of women support the born this way idea.
Education can also be used as a loose predictor for likelihood of believing that people are born gay, but those figures are not as different as you might think. Around 54% of postgraduates say people are born gay compared to a slightly less but still strong 45% of those with a high school education or less supporting the idea.
Who Thinks What?
There are, however, some demographics that, while swinging slightly toward the born this way idea, have largely resisted change and have stayed with the notion of environment being the key factor.
While a majority or strong section of Democrats and Independents say gays are born that way, Republicans still languish behind at just 35% supporting that idea.
The pattern is repeated, though is somewhat more exaggerated, when we look at ideology. Liberals (67%) and Moderates accept the born this way idea, while 48% of self-identified Conservatives cling to environment and upbringing being the key factor.
Weekly church attendance also predicts how likely Americans are to favor the environmental argument over the born this way idea.
It may be frustrating for many advocates that the shift is not even more pronounced given that an overwhelming body of science points to sexual orientation as an innate, immutable quality that for most people appears fixed at birth.
Studies have demonstrated that there are key measurable predictors for being gay, including chromosomal linkage and epigenetics studies, as well as other factors like birth order and hormone levels during gestation, all of which are thought to play a contributing part in sexuality.
Nevertheless, Gallup notes that the increase in support for gay rights as a whole is one of the most dramatic shifts it has ever seen.
While it would be improper to draw firm conclusions without specific evidence gathering, a general softening in public opinion does seem to have occurred as the born gay idea has gained ground.
This has been especially noticeable where even major religions have, after long denying people are born gay, affirmed that at the very least being homosexual is not a choice.
This shift is important because when it can no longer be argued that being gay is a choice, establishing a justification for denying gay people basic civil rights enjoyed by heterosexuals becomes that much more difficult.
What of Marriage Equality?
Other polling data released by Gallup in the same week confirms again that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality for same-sex couples, with 53% to 45% favoring legal same-sex marriage recognition.
The patterns represented above are again largely repeated in the marriage equality results, though it does show that support among Republicans and conservative-identifying individuals may have stalled.
Meanwhile, Gallup predicts that the wider upward trend supporting gay people will continue for some time yet.
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