The Times commissioned a poll, conducted by Populus, to commemorate the Stonewall riots 40 years ago. The riots took place on 27 and 28 July 1969 were a spontaneous resistance to repeated police raids on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York and it was the drag queens who led the resistance. It was a defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and Britain.
The poll reveals a revolution in attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. It shows that a majority of the public want lesbian and gay people to share identical rights to everyone else.
68% of the public back “full equal rights” for gay men and lesbians.
61% want gay couples to be able to marry, not just have civil partnerships.
51% want children to be taught in school that gay relationships are of equal value to marriage with 44% opposed.
49% believe that gay couples should have equal adoption rights.
The Times headlines the poll results “Church 'out of touch' as public supports equal rights for homosexuals” and names the Church as the final bastion of formal discrimination.
In a separate article, Peter Riddell shows that people have become far more tolerant in the past two decades. The British Social Attitudes survey shows that those who think that homosexuality is always or mostly wrong fell from 75% in 1987 to 32% in 2006.
Since January 2005 those agreeing that gay couples should have exactly the same rights as heterosexual couples has risen from 65% to 68%, the number disagreeing falling from 31% to 27%.
A 1999 Ipsos MORI poll found 37% in favour of gay people being allowed to adopt with 57% opposed. Now, 49% agree that gay couples should have the same rights to adopt with 47% disagreeing.
A year later another Ipsos MORI poll found people evenly divided about whether gay couples should be allowed to get married. Populus now finds almost two thirds support the equal right of gay couples to marry.
Less confident are parental responses to their children coming out as gay. 41% say they would embrace it while 45% would feel upset but try to understand and come to terms with it. 9% said they would not accept it and would reject the child.
The survey results are good news for lesbian and gay people in the UK. Those of us who are gay know from personal experience that there really has been a profound change. From my work with Changing Attitude I know that attitudes have also changed for the majority of Anglicans, bishops included. So there’s potential good news even for lesbian and gay Christians.
But the churches in the UK are afraid to change their attitude. They adhere to what they maintain is the church’s traditional teaching about homosexuality. They are intimidated by a small but vocal conservative minority in the church. They are unwilling to risk the schism which is threatened by vociferous leaders in other parts of the Anglican Communion.
Conservatives will say that a change in social attitudes is no reason to change 2,000years of church teaching and practice. They maintain a conservative theology and alliances with global conservatism rather than questioning their own attitudes.
It’s an outrageous suggestion, I know, but could the change in attitude towards LGBT people taking place in many secular cultures be the work of the Holy Spirit – a prophetic sign for those who still wish to use the Bible to humiliate, denigrate and marginalise gay people?