Young and Old at Odds on Same-Sex RelationshipsA new University of Chicago study shows that although public attitudes are still sharply divided, homosexuality is gaining acceptance in our culture.

Researchers discovered Americans overwhelmingly support basic civil liberties and freedom of expression for gays and lesbians. This finding is in addition to a plurality of Americans who now approve of same-sex marriage.

Moreover, researchers say younger generations are leading the way in this cultural transformation.

The rise in support for same-sex marriage has been especially dramatic over the last two decades with acceptance growing from 11 percent approval in 1988 to 46 percent in 2010.

The report is based on findings of the latest General Social Survey, conducted in 2010 with a cross sample of more than 2,000 people.

“There is a large generation gap on the issue [of same-sex marriage],” said Tom W. Smith, Ph.D., author of the report, “Public Attitudes Toward Homosexuality.”

While 64 percent of those under 30 back same-sex marriage, only 27 percent of those 70 and older support it.

The generational divide extends to acceptance of homosexuality. In 2010, 26 percent of the people surveyed who were under 30 said they felt same-sex behavior is “always wrong,” while 63 percent of the people aged 70 and older held that opinion.

This generation chasm results in sharply divided public attitudes on the issue. Although 44 percent of the people surveyed felt that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong, another 41 percent thought such relations were “not wrong at all.”

“Just 11 percent were in the middle, saying it was either ‘almost always wrong’ or ‘wrong only sometimes.’ Public opinion is thus highly polarized on this issue, with few people sharing the middle ground,” Smith said.

The change toward acceptance of homosexuality began in the late 1980s after years of remaining relatively constant. In 1973, 70 percent of people felt same-sex relations are “always wrong,” and in 1987, 75 percent held that view.

By 2000, however, that number dropped to 54 percent and by 2010 was down to 43.5 percent.

Source: University of Chicago