Acceptance of Homosexual Sex in the UK is in Decline for the First Time Since AIDS Crisis of the 1980s

The proportions of British people who support premarital sex and same-sex relations fell in 2018
Guardian graphic. Source: British Social Attitudes survey

Thirty years of increasingly liberal attitudes towards gay sex may be coming to an end after the number of people who said they considered it wrong rose for the first time since the Aids crisis.

In 1987 when every household received sombre leaflets warning “don’t die of ignorance”, nine out of 10 people thought there was something wrong with sexual relations between two adults of the same sex.

Every year since, tolerance had increased, but now the British Social Attitudes Survey has found the number of people believing there is nothing wrong with gay sex has fallen, leaving a third of the population in some way opposed.

The finding, based on a survey of 2,884 people, coincided with the first dip in more than a decade in people saying they think sex before marriage is not at all wrong, with people from non-Christian religious groups the most likely to disapprove.

“Liberalisation of attitudes does seem to be slowing down,” said the independent social research agency NatCen, which carried out the research. “While social norms have changed, there is a significant minority of the population who remain uncomfortable with same-sex relationships and as such we may have reached a point of plateau.”

The gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said it was “a worrying trend”, while the Christian Institute, an educational charity that believes sex should only happen in a marriage between a man and a woman, said signs of a reversal may be a result of pushback against a “new orthodoxy that not to celebrate same-sex relations is homophobic”.

The survey also found that a third of people consider that prejudice against transgender people is only “mostly” or “sometimes” wrong, while 6% said it was rarely or never wrong.

The authors of the study cautioned it would require future polling to confirm whether the small rise in people who consider gay sex to be in some way wrong was statistically significant. But they predicted that the minority of opponents to same-sex relations, including religious groups, would become increasingly determined to make their socially conservative views heard in public discussions on gender and relationships.

Religious and politically conservative groups have been increasingly vocal in their resistance to social liberalism. This week, parents at Parkfield community school in Saltley, Birmingham, restarted protests over the teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in schools, arguing the lessons are inconsistent with their understanding of Islam.

They had previously won support from senior Conservative politicians including Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey, who said parents should have the right to choose what their children were taught.

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SOURCE: The Guardian, Robert Booth