Americans' attitudes toward gays and lesbians since 1965
Public opinion has played an increasingly important role in politicians' and policymakers' decisionmaking, prompting political scientists to analyze the public's views toward numerous social issues. Attitudes toward gays and lesbians, however, have not been well-examined, despite the issue's intensifying political and social divisiveness. I investigate the degree, direction, and sources of change in public acceptance of gays and lesbians, and attitudes toward guaranteeing their civil rights and liberties. This is accomplished in three parts. First, I retrieved every polling question on the topic of homosexuals, gays, and lesbians from the archives of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research through November 1996 for a trend analysis. I then analyzed longitudinal change using Gallup and General Social Survey data by performing cohort and changing demographic effects analyses. Americans support lesbians' and gays' freedom to express themselves and support for their civil liberties has grown consistently into the 1990s. There are positive attitude trends regarding at least one civil rights issue-job discrimination---but there are no such trends toward equal rights legislation or toward legalization of same-sex relations. A positive trend may be developing in favor of lesbians' and gays' right to adopt children. Support for gay marriage, however, has stagnated. Public acceptance of homosexuality as a different or alternative lifestyle has increased since the 1970s, and in the 1990s, substantially less of the public believes homosexuality is wrong than in previous decades. Most other acceptance measures exhibit little progress. Cohort analysis reveals that more recent opinion change has been due largely to people changing their minds favorably. With that development, the pace of change has increased, which may indicate that more rapid shifts are on the horizon. Demographic effects have been surprisingly stable over time, with better educated and younger Americans more likely to support gays' liberties and rights and to be more accepting toward them. Jews and those of no religious affiliation are more likely than Protestants to express gay-supportive attitudes on all categories of measures, and males are often more negative than females toward lesbians and gays, especially regarding employment and social acceptance issues.