MONDAY, Oct. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Younger generations are leading the way toward greater tolerance and social acceptance of gays and lesbians in the United States, according to new research.
While the nation remains deeply divided on gay marriage, the vast majority of Americans support basic civil liberties and freedom of expression for homosexual people.
This wasn't always the case. In 1973, 70 percent of Americans felt homosexuality was "always wrong," the report revealed. By 2010, the percentage of those who felt that homosexuality was "always wrong" had dropped to 44 percent.
The findings show a clear "trend toward greater tolerance regarding homosexuality," said Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at NORC and author of the NORC report, in news release last week.
The researchers found a dramatic increase in support for same-sex marriage over the last 20 years, jumping from an 11 percent approval rate in 1988 to 46 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, 40 percent remain opposed.
"There is a large generation gap on the issue [of same-sex marriage]," noted Smith. While 64 percent of those under age 30 support gay marriage, just 27 percent of those aged 70 or older feel the same.
The findings, based on a national survey of more than 2,000 people, also showed more general acceptance of homosexuality among younger people. In 2010, only 26 percent those under age 30 said they believed same-sex behavior is "always wrong." However, 63 percent of those 70 and older held that belief.
Public attitudes on the issue are highly polarized, the researchers found. Although 44 percent of those surveyed felt that sex between two adults of the same sex is "always wrong," 41 percent thought such behavior was "not wrong at all." Only 11 percent of the people surveyed fell somewhere in the middle.
Although the nation remains divided on feelings towards homosexuality, a significant increase occurred in support for civil liberties for gays and lesbians over the past two decades.
Support for a gay person's right to speak publically jumped to 86 percent in 2010 -- up from 62 percent in 1972. Meanwhile, support for homosexuals teaching at colleges or universities rose to 84 percent in 2010, up from 48 percent in 1973. The researchers also found more people approved of library books that cast a favorable light on homosexuality. Support for these books rose from 54 percent in 1973 to 78 percent in 2010.
The Pew Charitable Trusts provides more information on same-sex marriage.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SOURCE: University of Chicago, news release, Sept. 28, 2011
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