While the public is divided over same-sex marriage, a majority of Americans (58%) say that homosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, by society, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center in February and March 2011. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans supporting (45%) and opposing (46%) gay marriage is essentially even.
Pew notes opposition to gay marriage has fallen 29% from 65% in 1996.
Majorities across most demographic groups say that homosexuality should be accepted by society, but there are significant differentials within groups. Among the most accepting of all groups surveyed are Hispanics (64%), with 58% of whites but only 49% of blacks also supporting social acceptance. Women (64%) are 23% more likely than men (52%) to support social acceptance of gays.
Looking at age demographics, support of social acceptance is highest with the youngest adults (69%), and then gradually slips until it dips below half (47%) with the oldest adults. Educational level also plays a large role, as 67% of those with college degrees but only 51% with a high school diploma or less support social acceptance.
Among religious groups, substantial majorities of the religiously unaffiliated (79%), white Catholics (66%) and white mainline Protestants (65%) say that homosexuality should be accepted. However, just 29% of white evangelical Protestants agree, while more than twice as many (63%) say homosexuality should be discouraged by society.
Regionally, support is highest in the Northeast (69%) and West (65%), and much lower in the Midwest (56%) and South (50%). Not surprisingly, 81% of liberal Democrats but only 35% of conservative Republicans support social acceptance of homosexuality.
Since 2007, the percentage saying that the increasing number of gay couples raising children is a bad thing has fallen from 50% to 35%. The proportion viewing this trend positively has changed very little (11% then, 14% today). Rather, there has been a substantial increase in the percentage saying it does not make much difference (34% in 2007, 48% today).
While there continue to be sizable partisan differences in opinions about gay parenting, there has been an across-the-board decline in negative views. In February 2007, 70% of Republicans said that more gays and lesbians raising children was a bad thing for society. Today, 53% of Republicans express this view, while nearly as many say either it does not make much difference (42%) or is a good thing (4%). Just 30% of independents and 28% of Democrats view the trend toward more gay parents as a bad thing, down from 41% and 39%, respectively, four years ago.
The proportion of African Americans viewing this trend negatively has changed little since 2007; 45% now say more gay parents are a bad thing for society, which is little changed from four years ago (52%). Negative views among whites and Hispanics have fallen 17 points and 14 points, respectively, over this period.
The American public is sharply divided in its judgments about the sweeping changes in the structure of the American family that have unfolded during the last 50 years, according to data released by the Pew Research Center in February 2011. About a third generally accepts the changes, a third is tolerant but skeptical and a third considers them bad for society.
About the Data: The Pew political typology survey was conducted in February and March 2011 and released in May 2011.
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