Currently, 47 percent of Americans view being gay or lesbian as a sexual orientation individuals are born with, while 33 percent instead believe it is due to external factors such as upbringing or environment. That 14-percentage-point gap in favor of “nature” over “nurture” is the largest Gallup has measured to date. As recently as two years ago, the public was evenly divided.
The results are based on Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 2-7. When Gallup first asked about the origins of same-sex orientation in 1977, Americans were much more likely to attribute it to upbringing or environment. Although the gap in favor of external factors shrank somewhat over the next two-plus decades, it remained the more common belief.
Throughout most of the last decade, Americans were generally divided in their views, though there were times when they tilted slightly more in the direction of environmental factors (2003-2005) or toward a birth factor (2006-2008).
The 2012 Values and Beliefs poll marked the start of a trend toward an increasing belief that people are born with a same-sex orientation.
Compared with 2011, when Americans were equally divided on the origins of same-sex orientation, most major U.S. subgroups have shown at least a slight increase in the percentage believing same-sex preference is something a person is born with. Now, a plurality of most subgroups hold that view, except for Republicans, conservatives, and weekly church attenders.
Americans More Positive Toward Gays and Lesbians in Many Respects
The movement toward viewing same-sex orientation as an innate preference follows the larger trend in Americans’ more positive attitudes toward gays and lesbians. The May 2-7 poll also finds:
Sixty-five percent of Americans believe gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal, numerically the highest Gallup has measured by one percentage point, but not materially different from what Gallup has measured for the past three years. From 1986-1988, only about one-third of Americans thought gay and lesbian relations should be legal.
Americans’ support for legal gay marriage has solidified above 50 percent.
Americans are much more likely to say they personally have become more accepting of gays and lesbians in the past few years (36 percent) than to say they have become less accepting (7 percent). The majority, 57 percent, say their views have not changed.
Currently, 75 percent of Americans say they have a friend, relative, or coworker who has revealed to them that he or she is gay. That is up from 58 percent in a 2009 Gallup poll, 37 percent in a 1998 Harris poll, and 24 percent in a 1985 Los Angeles Times poll.
A growing belief on the part of Americans that same-sex preference has innate causes is part of a larger trend in more positive views of gays and lesbians, and it may also help to promote even greater acceptance of gays and lesbians in the future.
Americans have long believed gays should have equal job rights, and have shown a clear preference for legal gay-lesbian relations since 2004. Now, support for gay marriage has crossed the majority threshold, perhaps permanently.
The changes in views on these issues mark some of the largest Gallup has seen in American public opinion in recent decades. The fact that 75 percent of Americans say a close acquaintance has told them he or she is gay or lesbian — up from 24 percent less than three decades ago — is compelling evidence of the growing tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians in this country.