Are Gay Relations Morally Acceptable? Gallup Data Shows Huge Swing in Public Opinion


Public opinion on same-sex relations has improved more dramatically than it has on any other controversial issue with strong moral sensibilities, according to data released May 30 by the Gallup Poll organization.

EganWhen asked to indicate, “Do you believe that, in general, the following are morally acceptable?” 58 percent said yes on “gay and lesbian relations.” That’s up from 18 points, from 40 percent in 2001, when the question was first asked. (And 40 percent in 2001 wasn’t the lowest year for the issue. In 2002, moral acceptability of “gay and lesbian relations” was at 38.)

“The sharp rise in the share of the public viewing [gay and lesbian relations] as morally acceptable is unmatched by any of the other items on the Gallup survey,” said Patrick Egan, a New York University professor of politics who specializes in public opinion and LGBT demographics. “This reflects broader positive movements in American public opinion on gay rights and gay people that we've been seeing over the past two decades.”

Williams Institute Scholar Gary Gates notes that the Gallup findings on moral acceptability are consistent with the Gallup findings last week that 63 percent of Americans support allowing same-sex couples to adopt children and with the recent Gallup poll finding 55 percent support allowing same-sex couples to marry.

“The findings across these three polling questions suggest that Americans’ growing support for same-sex relationships and families is not just confined to a sense of moral acceptability, but also translates into increasing support for formal legal equality,” said Gates.

AcceptabilityIn the May 30 poll, “gay and lesbian relations” was one of 19 “moral issues” on which respondents were asked to weigh in. Its acceptability level (58 percent) matched that of buying and wearing fur, having a baby outside of marriage, and (at 57 percent) medical testing on animals.

The issue that has seen the greatest improvement in public acceptability, after “gay and lesbian relations,” is having a baby outside of marriage. It rose 16 points between 2001 and 2014. Sex between an unmarried man and woman rose 13 points in acceptability.

Of the 19 issues, birth control had the highest acceptability rating (90 percent), followed by divorce (69 percent), and sex between an unmarried man and woman (66 percent).

Married men and women having an affair ranked the lowest of 19 categories at seven percent, followed by cloning humans (13 percent) and polygamy (14 percent).

Public acceptability went down on only four issues: medical testing on animals (eight percent), the death penalty and wearing fur (two percent), and gambling (one percent).
Opinion about abortion went unchanged between 2001 and 2014, with 42 percent of the public saying it was acceptable.

Gallup has been conducting its “Values and Beliefs Poll” every May since 2001.  This year’s poll was conducted by telephone on a random sample of 1,028 adults in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The margin of error is plus-or-minus four percentage points. The sample is weighted to match national demographics.

In the first four years of doing the survey, Gallup asked people about the moral acceptability of “homosexual behavior.” In those years, the response ran between 38 and 44 percent. For three years (2006-2008), it asked about “homosexual relations.” The response ran from 44 to 48 percent.

Beginning in 2009, Gallup asked about “gay and lesbian relations.” The improvement between 2008 (48 percent) and 2009 (49 percent) was only one percentage point.

Egan noted that the term “gay and lesbian relations” is “definitely a vague” one. So some respondents might interpret it as sexual relations and some might interpret it as same-sex relationships.

“My sense is that respondents are interpreting the item as an invitation to render moral judgment on gayness writ large,” he said.

The biggest one-year leap in improvement came in May 2003, when 44 percent of the public said “gay and lesbian relations” were morally acceptable, up six percentage points from the low of 38 percent. The second biggest leap came in May 2013, when it showed a five percent jump over the previous year. (A year after President Obama gave his nationally broadcast interview to ABC’s Robin Roberts, expressing his support for same-sex couples being able to marry, and six months  after three states approved marriage equality ballot measures.)

May 2013 was the high point in acceptance. Polling this year showed a one-percentage point decrease, to 58 percent. This year’s poll was conducted May 8 to 11, just as an Arkansas judge declared that state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying to be unconstitutional and national media attention riveted to openly gay National Football League draftee Michael Sam sharing a kiss and hug with his boyfriend.

© 2014 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


  1. Will says

    Polls like this reveal the hypocrisy of everyday people. For example, 77% of people think pornography is immoral but I’m wiling to bet more than 77% of Americans have looked at porn before. Hence they are immoral and shouldn’t judge others.

    Issues like birth control and divorce are most likely popular because they can directly affect straight people. I’m sure if birth control was only for minorities or gays then it wouldn’t have a 90% acceptance rate.

  2. cgd says

    President Obama told Robin Roberts he was personally for marriage equality on May 9, 2012.
    Gallup first showed majority support for same-sex marriage on May 5-8, 2011.

  3. Hansel Currywurst says

    More and more people are deciding the world isn’t flat; others say they’re evolving on the issue by admitting it’s not quite as flat as they thought, but they’re not ready to go totally round on the matter. Whatever.

    I’ve never cared what anyone else thinks, and I’m not going to start now.

  4. simon says

    In April 2013, the Republican National Committee voted unanimously to reaffirm the party’s commitment to upholding the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman

  5. anon says

    The study is a hoot! It’s morally unacceptable to commit suicide but okay for a doctor to euthanize you? Sex between unmarried adults is okay, but not porn? Sex between unmarried adults is okay, but not for teens?

    How would gay men answer these questions? Differently?

  6. Will says

    Didn’t realize abortion was that low. But it is the US and I guess that’s why it’s such a hot-button issue. I suppose though that some would say it’s not moral but people should still have the choice. Ok, that makes sense.

    Porn and teenage sex. The hypocrites/self-haters and the delusional.

    61% for the death penalty? Seriously? Man your country is scary.

  7. Randy says

    Suicide is unacceptable? What are they going to do, throw your dead body in prison?

    If you have no right to end your life, then your life itself is slavery — we own you — you have no rights.

    Some people need to start using their noggins.

  8. Jim says

    I usually hang up when I get a call about a survey. I fail to see how they can be factual. When I’ve participated in them I felt the questions to be leading, or the choices ridiculous.

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