How Have Britain’s Opinions About Gay People Changed?
Newly published results from a British national survey have found that 22% of the public still believe homosexual sex is ‘always wrong,’ but nationally the shift toward acceptance over the past three decades continues with strong momentum.
Called the British Social Attitudes survey and conducted by NatCen, the survey randomly selected from national addresses a sample of homes and then again randomly selected one adult from that home to create a sample size of 3,248 interviewees. The interviewees were asked a range of questions, from how happy they are with politicians to how important they think marriage is, over an hour long interview, with the respondents answering questions by selecting answers from a set of cards.
Now in its 30th year, the survey has since its launch asked the following (or roughly equivalent) question:
[Are] sexual relations between two adults of the same sex always wrong?; mostly wrong?; sometimes wrong?; rarely wrong?; or not wrong at all?
Briefly, and as mentioned above, 22% of respondents when answering in the latest survey (conducted in 2012) said sexual relationships between two adults of the same sex are always wrong. The figures for the other answers break down like this:
- 6% mostly wrong
- 7% sometimes wrong
- 10% rarely wrong
- 47% not wrong at all
We might speculate here and point out that the question is asking about sexual practices over sexual orientation and so, by virtue of that, may lead to more absolute answers from those religiously inclined, such as practicing Muslims, Catholics and Evangelicals.
We can also quibble and say that headlines using the phrase “Think Being Gay is Always Wrong” may not technically be true as, again, sexual practices and sexual orientation are, for Catholics for one, viewed differently.
However, the basic thrust seems clear: a sizable proportion (just over one fifth) of the British public appears to believe homosexual sexual relationships are morally offensive. How does this compare to previous years?
The figure is slightly up on the 2010 survey which found only 20% went for the “always wrong” option, but significantly lower than at the turn of the century when 37% answered in that regard, and dramatically lower than when the survey first began in 1983 when 50% of the population answered “always wrong.”
Researchers noticed a clear generational divide, and a correlation with political ideology, with Conservatives more likely to be against and those among the more liberal parties (Labour and the Liberal Democrats) more likely to say “never wrong” or “almost never wrong.” Conservatives, however, have through the life of the survey seen the most shift toward expressing a positive view of homosexuality — this evidenced in real-world events with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron leading the charge for marriage equality, which will come into force by the summer of next year.
What is encouraging in these results is evidence that the dramatic shifting of weight toward the “rarely wrong” and “not wrong at all” categories has continued almost uninterrupted since the survey’s launch, with the report stating that among all the criteria assessed in the survey, the change in attitudes toward homosexuality has been one of the most dramatic.
Other areas that, for our purposes, may be of interest include that an overwhelming majority of respondents agree gay people should be able to teach in schools (83%) and “hold a responsible position in public life” (90%).
In addition, more than half of people surveyed agreed that “same-sex couples should have the right to marry if they want to” at 56%, which is a marked jump from 47% in 2007.
On adoption, however, things are slightly more muted, with under half of people (48%) agreeing that “homosexuals should be able to adopt a baby under the same conditions as other couples.” Once again though, that is a marked decrease from the 87% who opposed same-sex couples adopting in 1983.
So, despite some depressing reminders that prejudices can be stubborn, an overall positive picture has emerged from these results.
As such, a NatCen spokesperson is quoted as saying, “When we began the survey back in 1983, it was impossible to imagine a Conservative Prime Minister advocating gay marriage; now public opinion suggests that widespread acceptance of gay marriage and gay adoption is very much here to stay.”
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