Are People Born Gay? America Increasingly Says Yes

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.

Image credit: Thinkstock.


Roger Hawcroft
Roger Hawcroft4 years ago

"...born *that way*.." ? We need to be careful about how we say things.

We are all sexual beings from birth. The manifestation of that sexuality, how we feel about it, show it, and utilise it will be influenced by peers, family, socialisation, acculturation and more. However, in most cases there is no "choice" involved. You simply are what you are.

As someone else said, even if there were or is choice, then so what?

We all have a sexuality. Homosexuality is just one form of sexuality, as are heterosexuality, transexuality, bi-sexuality. None is bad or good, they just are.

Aaron G
Aaron Gallo4 years ago

Ya they are born that way, or atleast it's FAR from being a choice! If someone offered me 30 million dollars to start sleeping with gay men and enjoying it I would say, Man that's alot of money but unfortunately I can't do it! But if some rich elderly women offered me big money to you know I'd say hell ya!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

my brother was 12 when he came out, and one of my dearest friends knew when he was 7. Reallly though, lets say it WAS a choice? So what? People make choices that other people don't agree with all the time, more power to them. I personally think they are born the way they are, but if it was a choice that would be okay too.

Roger Hawcroft
Roger Hawcroft4 years ago

Claire, - yes, it is more than a little disturbing, in fact and your analysis is a good one. However, the movement in views recorded in the article is at least a positive indicator and I believe that open discussion, particularly of sensitive issues, is always a good thing. At the same time, I'd agree with what I surmise is behind your comment - that this shouldn't even be an issue.

Unfortunately, most prejudice and misconception about "appropriate" human behaviour or states of being, is a product of acculturation and, as such, changes neither easily or quickly. Difference is almost universally suspected in our world and, by the nature of things, we have a tendency to assume that the majority commonality is the "correct" or "right" way for things to be, hence our decision making by majority; even when that majority is 50% plus 1. - It is not rational but human beings generally are not.

Personally, I'd like to see more discussion of these more complex issues that create the conditions of prejudice which many see as normal and even desirable. The almost completely irrational views regarding apparently mindless violence and its relationship or otherwise to gun ownership and gun laws is another example of cultural prejudice competing for ascendancy with rational appraisal. My view is that it is at that level that where our discussion will really make a difference, not at the superficial one of acculturated or indoctrinated prejudice.

Allan Yorkowitz
.4 years ago

Sarah H; I would never call anybody stupid, and I'm sorry you were called so. When 6 year olds KNOW they prefer to be with boys , and not girls, this is not a choice.

claire g.
claire gower4 years ago

It's a little disturbing to me that this is still an issue, to be honest.
As if most people would choose to be persecuted, maligned, given less rights, yelled at, spat on, or attacked simply to follow a "lifestyle choice."
I was born bisexual. I knew this from a young age, and it has never, ever been something I thought I would grow out of or lose as I got older, despite being bullied.
Of course, there are some people who, through events in their lives or decisions they have made, are perhaps swayed to one gender or another for whatever reason. However the vast majority of people in the LGBTQ community are just born like it- simple.

Mark Botermuc
Mark p.muc4 years ago

hm ... mayb e you are really right Sarah H. Ty ...

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Paulett Simunich
Paulett Simunich4 years ago

I have read many accounts of people who say they knew at a very young age they were gay.
They had no knowledge of homosexuality....could not even pronounce the word. Happiness
is elusive , at best, for most of us. If two people find happiness together......why would anyone deny them their happiness?????????

Marie Eve L.
Eve L4 years ago

@Sarah H. I think you were born stupid.