Polls and Surveys
        From:  The Washington Post, February 15, 1993


        By Richard Morin

	WASHINGTON - More than twenty years after the sexual revolution
allegedly rescued America from its hangups about sex, American attitudes
toward homosexuals and gay sex remain remarkably unchanged and broadly
disapproving. Public opionion polls taken then, as now, show that only
about four in 10 Americans believe that homosexual relations between
consenting adults should be legal. And large, remarkably stable majorities
have flatly stated that homosexuality is always wrong.
	"The basic survey finding is that moral approval of homosexuality
during the past 20 years has shown very little change, and what little
change there is has been a slight hardening of attitudes," says Tom Smith,
director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research
Center at the University of Chicago.
	According to the 1977 General Social Survey, the country's
most-watched barometer of social trends and attitudes, 67 percent of those
questioned said that sex between two adults of the same sex was "always
wrong." In the 1991 survey, 71 percent said gay sex was "always" wrong.
	Smith says two conflicting impulses push and pull public opinion on
homosexuality, and these colliding values are responsible for the apparent
contradictions found in public attitudes.
	The first tug on the national psyche is religious values.
Homosexuality is a sin or deviant behavior, most religions teach. And Smith
says studies in the United States and abroad suggest Americans are far more
religious than residents of other Western nations, and those deeply held
views undergird the public's negative views of homosexuality. "We're just
much more professed in our religion," Smith says. "And the traditional
moral/religious teachings are very clear on homosexuality."
	The second tug is in the opposite direction. "This is the land of
freedom, liberty and individual choice," Smith says. "That's the way this
country has always thought of itself, and those beliefs would clearly
support the right of individuals to chose to live a gay lifestyle."
	The clash between these conflicting impulses - religious values on
the one hand, freedom on the other - are seen at work on a number of issues
relating to gays. A Yankelovich Partners survey done for Time Magazine and
CNN last month found that two out of three Americans said marriages between
gays should not be legalized, reflecting the religious/moral underpinnings
of marriage. Likewise, by better than a 2-to-1 margin, Americans
disapproved of allowing gay couples to adopt children.
	But on other kinds of issues, the public expresses great tolerance.
Eight in 10 in a CBS News/New York Times survey last summer said gays
should have equal rights in terms of jobs.
	Surveys also suggest that Americans are more tolerant of gays if
they can be assured that homosexual behavior will be kept private. Over the
years, Gallup has asked three slightly different questions to measure
public tolerance of homosexuals. And small differences in question wording
- all related to the notion of privacy - produce remarkably different
results, Smith says.
	Two questions that Smith studied were last paired in the same
survey by Gallup in July 1986. The first is the standard Gallup question on
homosexuality: "Do you think homosexual relations between consenting adults
should or should not be legal?" The results: 32 percent said such relations
should be legal, while a 57 percent majority said they should not.
	But another question asked about gay relations in another way: "The
Supreme Court recently ruled that the Constitution does not give consenting
adults the right to have private homosexual relations. Do you approve or
disapprove of this ruling?" When it's asked this way, support for that
private right rises to 42 percent.
	Smith strongly suspects the military knows all this, and that it
may have served, at least in part, as the basis for its concerns about gays
in the military. "I was particularly struck by one of the serious issues
raised by the military - that is, what kind of contact and behavior would
be permitted" between gay servicemen and women."
	"They know they have a nontrivial number of homosexuals now in the
armed forces. They know they can live with it if they keep it private. They
don't know whether they can live with it if gays don't have to keep it

Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post.

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