Last month, the Gallup Organisation released poll results that showed a dramatic change in attitudes among men in the United States with respect to gay relationships. For the first time ever, more than half of Americans considered gay relations morally acceptable, with the change driven almost exclusively by a shifting of attitudes among men. Here is a graph from Gallup:
Between May 2009 (when a similar survey was conducted) and May 2010, the percentage of American men describing gay and lesbian relations “morally acceptable” leapt seven percentage points, from 46% to 53%. Compared to May 2006, it has risen 14 percentage points.
Was 2006 so long ago? No, not at all. It was the year the Singapore government proposed to keep gay sex criminal while legalising anal sex for heterosexuals, a discriminatory act still fresh in many Singaporeans’ minds. And now look where the world has gone off to while we stood still, thinking – hoping – the world will not change. Social attitudes rarely shift as rapidly as this. By historical standards, straight men are virtually rushing to kiss gay men.
Even more astounding has been a 16-percentage point jump among respondents who identified as Catholics, as you can see from the next graph:
There is a subtle difference between saying that gay relations are morally acceptable and saying that they should be legal. Some people take the view that even if it is morally unacceptable, it is not the business of the state to criminalise it, putting it roughly in the same basket as adultery. Thus, in May 2010, Gallup found that 58% of Americans overall felt gay relationships should be legal, six percentage points higher than the “it is morally acceptable” figure (52%; see first graph).
Gallup produced figures to show how this is part of a long term trend.
Another long term trend is the gradual decline of the numbers who think that being gay is the result of upbringing and the environment. Frankly, I am disappointed that it is still at the 36-37% level when there’s been steady scientific evidence against this idea for decades, but I suppose the average person is not very scientific-minded.
This is an important measure because those who think so tend also to believe that they can intervene to change or influence young persons’ sexual orientation. This belief provides the justification for censorship of media and the negative tarring of homosexual orientation in school curricula. Ah, but both these responses typify the Singapore government’s position. Well, that tells you what they think is the “cause” of homosexuality.
I have also argued that our secular government of our secular state in fact submits to religious orthodoxy when it comes to making policy that impacts on gay citizens. Gallup’s poll provides indirect evidence of this. How? you might ask. Well, first look again at the third chart (above).
Of the four religious categories, only one – Protestants – continues to show a majority not accepting of gay relationships. Non-Christians and the non-religious have acceptance levels in the mid-eighties. That attitudes differ so much from one religious category to another tells you the impact of religious teaching on attitudes towards homosexual orientation; one cannot now deny that the lobbying to sustain discrimination and criminal sanction against gay people is religiously motivated. And since our government’s policy towards the gay minority is one of discrimination, censorship and criminal sanction, does it not stand to reason that what we have here is policy determined by religious views? Is this a secular state still?
Gallup conducted telephone interviews with 1,029 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted between 3-6 May 2010 and it says the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Interviews were conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who were cell phone only). Source of graphs: Gallup’s website.
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Polling data do not reveal reason why opinions have shifted. New York Times columnist Charles Blow, however, asked Dr. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York and the author or editor of more than 20 books on men and masculinity, and Professor Ritch Savin-Williams, the chairman of human development at Cornell University and the author of seven books, most of which deal with adolescent development and same-sex attraction, and surmised that there were three theories, which I will quote, with slight editing (in the interest of length):
1. The contact hypothesis. As more men openly acknowledge that they are gay, it becomes harder for men who are not gay to discriminate against them. And as that group of openly gay men becomes more varied — including athletes, celebrities and soldiers — many of the old, derisive stereotypes lose their purchase. To that point, a Gallup poll released last May found that people who said they personally knew someone who was gay or lesbian were more likely to be accepting of gay men and lesbians in general and more supportive of their issues.
2. Men may be becoming more egalitarian in general. As Dr. Kimmel put it: “Men have gotten increasingly comfortable with the presence of, and relative equality of, ‘the other,’ and we’re becoming more accustomed to it. And most men are finding that it has not been a disaster.” The expanding sense of acceptance likely began with the feminist and civil rights movements and is now being extended to the gay rights movement.
3. Virulent homophobes are increasingly being exposed for engaging in homosexuality. Think Ted Haggard, the once fervent antigay preacher and former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, and his male prostitute…[snip]… Or George Rekers, the founding member of the Family Research Council, and his rent boy/luggage handler. Last week, the council claimed that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would lead to an explosion of “homosexual assaults” in which sleeping soldiers would be the victims of fondling and fellatio by gay predators. In fact, there is a growing body of research that supports the notion that homophobia in some men could be a reaction to their own homosexual impulses. Many heterosexual men see this, and they don’t want to be associated with it. It’s like being antigay is becoming the old gay. Not cool.
— New York Times, 4 June 2010, Gay? Whatever, dude by Charles M Blow
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As for repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, the the 1993 law that bans gay service men and women from serving in the US military, the same month, the US House of Representatives voted to repeal it. The vote was 234 to 194, with the great majority of the Republicans voting against repeal. The Senate is expected to pass a similar measure soon.
Meanwhile, few in Singapore want to talk about homosexuality, even less to change policy. I don’t have high hopes for the censorship review now in progress; the school sexuality education package has taken a step backwards; and Section 377A remains on the books. Openly gay teachers continue to have their careers stunted. While other societies are rushing to embrace the future, we prefer to stay Not cool.