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More Americans See Gay, Lesbian Orientation as Birth Factor

More Americans See Gay, Lesbian Orientation as Birth Factor

PRINCETON, NJ -- Currently, 47% of Americans view being gay or lesbian as a sexual orientation individuals are born with, while 33% instead believe it is due to external factors such as upbringing or environment. That 14-percentage-point gap in favor of "nature" over "nurture" is the largest Gallup has measured to date. As recently as two years ago, the public was evenly divided.

Trend on views of origins of sexual orientation

The results are based on Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 2-7. When Gallup first asked about the origins of same-sex orientation in 1977, Americans were much more likely to attribute it to upbringing or environment. Although the gap in favor of external factors shrank somewhat over the next two-plus decades, it remained the more common belief.

Throughout most of the last decade, Americans were generally divided in their views, though there were times when they tilted slightly more in the direction of environmental factors (2003-2005) or toward a birth factor (2006-2008).

The 2012 Values and Beliefs poll marked the start of a trend toward an increasing belief that people are born with a same-sex orientation.

Compared with 2011, when Americans were equally divided on the origins of same-sex orientation, most major U.S. subgroups have shown at least a slight increase in the percentage believing same-sex preference is something a person is born with. Now, a plurality of most subgroups hold that view, except for Republicans, conservatives, and weekly church attenders.

2011 vs. 2013 views by subgroup on origins of sexual orientation

Americans More Positive Toward Gays and Lesbians in Many Respects

The movement toward viewing same-sex orientation as an innate preference follows the larger trend in Americans' more positive attitudes toward gays and lesbians. The May 2-7 poll also finds:

  • Sixty-five percent of Americans believe gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal, numerically the highest Gallup has measured by one percentage point, but not materially different from what Gallup has measured for the past three years. From 1986-1988, only about one-third of Americans thought gay and lesbian relations should be legal.
  • Americans' support for legal gay marriage has solidified above 50%.
  • Americans are much more likely to say they personally have become more accepting of gays and lesbians in the past few years (36%) than to say they have become less accepting (7%). The majority, 57%, say their views have not changed.
  • Currently, 75% of Americans say they have a friend, relative, or coworker who has revealed to them that he or she is gay. That is up from 58% in a 2009 Gallup poll, 37% in a 1998 Harris poll, and 24% in a 1985 Los Angeles Times poll.


A growing belief on the part of Americans that same-sex preference has innate causes is part of a larger trend in more positive views of gays and lesbians, and it may also help to promote even greater acceptance of gays and lesbians in the future.

Americans have long believed gays should have equal job rights, and have shown a clear preference for legal gay-lesbian relations since 2004. Now, support for gay marriage has crossed the majority threshold, perhaps permanently.

The changes in views on these issues mark some of the largest Gallup has seen in American public opinion in recent decades. The fact that 75% of Americans say a close acquaintance has told them he or she is gay or lesbian -- up from 24% less than three decades ago -- is compelling evidence of the growing tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians in this country.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 2-7, 2013, with a random sample of 1,535 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cell phone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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