June 12, 2013

Americans less accepting of homosexuality than other westerners – religion may be one reason

In recent years, same-sex marriage has been legalized in some parts of the United States and in 15 countries worldwide, in part because of the public’s changing views about the subject and because of increasing acceptance of homosexuality. But these shifts aren’t universal. When the Pew Research Center surveyed the publics in 39 countries this year about views of homosexuality, we found a polarized world, with broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union and much of Latin America and equally widespread rejection in predominantly Muslim countries and in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and Russia.

We also found a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and opinions about homosexuality, with far less acceptance in countries where religion is central to people’s lives. Russia is a clear outlier, where there is less acceptance of homosexuality than the country’s low level of religiosity would suggest, and Brazil and the Philippines, where people are far more accepting than one might expect given their relatively high levels of religiosity.

The link between religiosity and acceptance of homosexuality explains, at least in part, why acceptance of homosexuality among Americans is low relative to other wealthy countries, particularly Canada and Western European nations, where religion is less central to people’s lives than in the U.S. Fully 60% of Americans say homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 88% in Spain, 87% in Germany, 80% in Canada, 77% in France, 76% in Britain and 74% in Italy.

Half of Americans consider religion to be very important in their lives, compared with 30% or less in Canada and Western Europe. In Britain and France, fewer than one-in-five say religion is very important to them (17% and 13% respectively).

When asked how often they pray outside of attending religious services, far more Americans than Canadians and Western Europeans say they pray at least once a day. And while more than half of Americans say it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values, solid majorities in France (85%), Spain (80%), Britain (78%), Italy (71%), Canada (67%) and Germany (66%) say this is not the case.

Here are more detailed results on global views of homosexuality and survey methodology.

Updated May 27, 2014: The original version of this report included public opinion data on the connection between religion and morality in China that has since been found to have been in error. Specifically, the particular survey item that asked whether one needed to believe in a higher power or God to be a moral person was mistranslated on the China questionnaire, rendering the results incomparable to the remaining 39 countries. For this reason, the data from China has been removed from the current version of the report, re-released in May 2014.

For further information, please contact info@pewresearch.org.

Topics: Religion and Society, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Social Values

  1. Photo of Juliana Menasce Horowitz

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Ben Cattabriga2 years ago

    I find it very disappointing that only 60% of Americans overall feel gay people should be excepted. Especially after seeing how the US compares to other countries like Spain. This country should be embarrassed. This is the kind of crap that makes me NOT PROUD to be an American. I am proud of me for not being ignorant or not being judgmental towards anyone over anything about them that they have no control over. For example race, skin color, sexuality. The hell that people in this country put gay people through is beyond disgusting. It is out right immoral. The religious parents who condone there kids for being gay have no idea the trauma they put their kids through, When I see people saying how being gay and living a gay lifestyle is “disgusting and wrong” or saying how much of a sin it is to be gay it makes me appalled. It is indeed very disgusting that such a well developed industrial country that boast about freedom and civil rights such as the United States has 40 % of their population say that homosexuals should NOT be excepted by society. I am gay and believe me YOU CANT HELP IT!!. I tried to be straight because i felt so inferior, I could not except myself because this society I had to be brought up in. I almost killed myself when i finally realized i was in no way attracted to woman. Unfortunately that’s what many gay people do. I am willing to bet the suicide rate among homosexuals is drastically lower in the countries like Spain because apparently their society doesn’t promote hate in the name of god like many in this country do. DISGUSTING

  2. clear the wreckage3 years ago

    Although I live and work in Massachusetts I’m completely disgusted by how hypocritical some of my friends are in how they have to make people tolerate homosexuality, and forcing their opinions on me and others that we must accept homosexuality and even endorse it. I do not endorse or support homosexuality as I do not endorse or support sexual immorality, for the same reasons. I have several friends that are gay (homosexual) and I support them personally, even though I do not agree with their lifestyle, I still love them very much.
    Life has many complications and hating anyone will not produce the kind of people we should be in America, bringing up commonalities and explaining why certain actions have definitive consequences, and why we find something offensive should also be tolerated.
    I think there is a delicate balance between supporting individual rights without endorsing an alternative lifestyle that is really not the best alternative.

  3. John Doe4 years ago

    Making people tolerate homosexuality is extremely hypocritical of Americans. Under the first amendment people are protected in their freedom to choose their beliefs. Hating homosexuals is a belief and should be tolerated just as much as supporting homosexuals. Also Jeffery Limes, people aren’t supposed to be choose straight. They’re supposed to be born straight, but people can also be born gay. But being born gay, is not a good thing, because the one true purpose of life is reproduction, which gays aren’t willing to do for the most part. And that should never be “protected”

    1. Anon4 years ago

      Nope. Americans have the freedom to chose their beliefs yes, however they’re also free to have opinions on the beliefs of others and to try to sway each others opinions through debates

    2. Mex Seiko3 years ago


      I am a Christian and I don’t condone or support homosexuality, but hating anyone is as sinful as homosexuality itself. It contradicting.

  4. Jeffrey Limes4 years ago

    The comment by Mark who represents “most” Americans is a great example of hate. Forgive me Mark, I was not supposed to use that word. Could you please tell us when in your life did you decide to be straight?

  5. Mark H. Harris4 years ago

    @David Thompson

    Homophobia, Xenophobia, &etc are fictitious disorders having no basis in fact and aimed at the right to criminalize a viewpoint held by *most* of Americans.

    There is no hate mongering going on either… that is just another ad hominem designed again to criminalize the right.

    The fact is that *most* Americans find homosexuality to be immoral and disgusting. This is not an opinion of hate, nor is there any fear involved. Many Americans are not going to accept homosexuality (nor the third gender) any time soon. Some of this has to due with upbringing, and some of it has to do with common sense. But yes, much of it has to do with a biblical world-view and a Judeo-Christian ethic.

    Please stop with the “hate” language, and the phobia language… its just not helpful for your cause, and it makes you look silly.


    1. David Thompson4 years ago

      Mark the phobias most certainly do exists and they come from the religious right, which is extremely vocal, but not the majority. Same sex marriage is being accepted in numerous states, despite what the vocal right does to criminalize it.

      Your puerile view of who and what you represent is amazing. Your opinions you believe are reality, although not grounded in anything but your own assertions. My comments reflect the most current Pew polls. Pew is much better gauge of reality than Mark Harris.

      You may not be a religious right theocrat, but having lived most of my life in the bible belt, I am very well acquainted with evangelical-fundamentalist and I stand by my post as being correct.

    2. Tom Osborne4 years ago

      Mark, you seem to want to get us off on a debate over whether or not bigotry against gays is “homophobia.” Fine. I’ll take the bait.

      It is true that “phobia” as a root word means “fear.” It’s also true that the root word “homo” means “human” or “same.” However, combining the two root words doesn’t make the new word — homophobia — mean “fear of humans” or “fear of the same.” Many words in the English language have meanings that go far beyond a literal translation of their roots.

      Homophobia is a term used in the English language to encompass the range of feelings of antipathy toward homosexuals. It doesn’t matter whether that antipathy is based on fear, or bigotry, or loathing, or religious teachings, or mere lack of familiarity, or just plain mean-spiritedness, or even political expediency for that matter. (This is much the same as racism — racist attitudes can come from a wide variety of sources as well: it’s the resulting attitude, not the cause of the attitude, that makes it racism.)

      So drop your pretense that anti-gay positions are anything but homophobia. Hatefulness is still hateful, regardless of how it came about.

      Oh, and by the way, you can also quit pretending that anti-gay opinions are based on a “Biblical world view.” The Bible says precious little against homosexuality (less, for example, than it says negatively about eating the wrong foods) — and if you actually studied the Bible, you would have found it has almost as many positives as it has negatives about homosexual relationships. I’d be happy to point some of them out to you . . .

      But the more important point is that, while right-wing “Christians” cite the Bible in defending homophobia, they conveniently ignore many if not most of the other commandments of the Bible. That would suggest strongly that a “biblical world view” is not the reason for the bigotry, it’s only an excuse for it. Many people seem to search the Bible for a passage or 2 that supports their prejudices and then claim it as the “reason.”

      Incidentally, I find this to be the case beyond just the issue of homosexuality. Picking and choosing from the Bible based not on some heirarchy of what should be most important (i.e., maybe words spoken by Jesus should be considered more important than those by Moses, for example) but instead by whether or not the passage comports to one’s own “common sense” feelings about the world!

      1. Mark H.+Harris4 years ago

        Tom, no I was not trying to start a debate, just responding (to the article, and to the comment).
        I will take issue with your response– first regarding hate. I have no hate for anyone, and yet I am apposed to same sex unions. There are two reasons (neither one based in hate) first 1) I personally find same sex unions (the physical acts of copulation) disgusting. There is no secondary emotion of hate… its just simple disgust. Secondly 2) The biblical world-view (what the article was getting at…) condemns same sex copulation (unions).
        You are most incorrect about the Bible and homosexual couples (your comment is just not valid… either you are deliberately lying, or you are ignorant, or you have a gross sense of mis-interpretation). I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
        I have studied the Bible (two degrees) in four languages; including Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. (one undergrad Bible college degree, and one Seminary degree)
        One thing I can tell you without reservation and without any prejudice, the Bible condemns same sex unions (hands down, and without apology).
        That is why Pew has the stats they have (that’s what the article is about). People (including me) would not have the problem they have with homosexual behavior if it were not for the fact that the Bible condemns it; period. (true story)
        As for homophobia… homophobia is a lame leftist attempt at “blaming” the right for its biblical world-view. Homophobia does not exist. And at least in my own psyche “hate” does not exist either. I’m a pastor and a human being… I don’t hate anyone. On the other hand, I recognize the condemnation of homosexual acts in the Bible for what they are– immoral perversions of authentic human sexuality. This is not an emotion of hate… its a biological biblical statement of fact.
        I’m willing to dialogue should you desire.

        PS. NO, David and Jonathan’s love for each other was NOT homosexual… NO, Jesus’ love for John was NOT homosexual… those (and others) are insensitive attempts to stretch the biblical account in defense of immorality… and many of us find that insulting and disgusting also.

        m harris

        1. Andy Nguyen4 years ago

          Yes. Westboro Baptist Church does not hate LGBT folks, and the Bible is totally moral and factual.

          LEVITICUS 26:29
          KJV: “And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.”
          NCV: “You will eat the bodies of your sons and daughters.”

          NUMBERS 31:17
          KJV: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.”
          NCV: “Kill all the Midianite boys, and kill all the Midianite women who have had sexual relations.”

          LUKE 14:26
          KJV: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
          NCV: “If anyone comes to me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters – or even life – more than me, he cannot be my follower.”

          JOB 39:9–12
          KJV: “Will the UNICORN be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the UNICORN with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?”

          PSALMS 22:21
          KJV: “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the UNICORNS.”
          NCV: “Rescue me from the lion’s mouth; save me from the horns of the bulls.”

          ISAIAH 34:7
          KJV: “And the UNICORNS shall come down with them, and the bullocks with their bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”
          NCV: “The oxen will be killed, and the cattle and the strong bulls. The land will be filled with their blood, and the dirt will be covered with their fat.”


    3. John Doe4 years ago

      You couldn’t be more correct. It may or may not be right to hate homosexuals, but in America that should be tolerated regardless, just like the support for homosexuality should also be tolerated. There is no right and wrong in opinions. At least not in America, or what the ideal idea of America was.

    4. clear the+wreckage3 years ago

      Thanks Mark Harris, I do agree with most of your thoughts.

      Having a standard by which to live your life and use it as a guiding principle, is a life lived deliberately.

      Yes, it is true that *most* Americans find homosexuality to be immoral and disgusting, even though they may have friends that participate in a homosexual lifestyle. I agree it is not on the basis of homophobia, having lived most of my life as a pagan who did not accept authority from anyone, especially God, and only later in life having developed a conscience of what my own lifestyle had showed me as completely destructive.

      After gaining the consequences of what a godless lifestyle brought me I adopted deep convictions that took many years to develop, opposing my own past, and grateful for the grace and forgiveness found in Christ Jesus. But I’m still very aware that I should be the most gracious of people, by sharing my own story to help others from these patterns of destruction and self-deceit.

  6. David Thompson4 years ago

    Homophobia, Xenophobia, and Misogyny all track about the same when using a standardized questionnaire to measure response. It is the reason that our religiosity is so high among participants. if you get your standard religious person in the survey, they are going to have a personal god that loves them. He’s looking out for your best interest and he is your daily Savior.

    Homophobia, Xenophobia, Misogyny and play their part in the make up of the individuals. There is no question they take their hate mongering from the backwater religions of the bible belt. The Southern Baptist Convention is one of the strong groups, where all member walk in lock step with each other. Many of these groups have other common challenges, 6-day earth creation. World is 6,000 years old, and man and dinosaur walked the earth at the same time. Nothing was done by evolution, it was all done by god as he created everything in its exact form,

    So, with this level of lunacy how can you expect teach students the fundamentals of biology, chemistry, and physics to give a well grounded science education? If you can’t change this basic paradigm, you won’t be able to move on the the main issues of misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, which uniquely identify the 100,000,000 men, women, and children of evangelical / fundamentalist church identification and political party.

    The US is effectively the American Taliban. Male dominated and oppressive. The wife follows the husband. The daughter is chattel, and the sons roam free. Not a concoction for a good family life in 21st century. There no 100% for anything, but this is the sphere you can expect in the bible belt.