In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, the American public has not eased its profound disapproval of homosexuality, but there are growing expressions of sympathy for homosexuals, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
The poll also surveyed attitudes about morality in general in the United States and found no convincing evidence of the much-rumored revival of puritanism in the United States. Many key moral attitudes are unchanged since the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s and, in the case of premarital sex, views are growing more liberal.
Nevertheless, two of five Americans believes that this is a “sick society.”
The poll, designed to reflect accurately the opinions of all Americans to within 3% one way or the other, asked respondents whether “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” are right or wrong.
A huge 73% majority said this activity is wrong, and 21% said it is not.
These responses are virtually unchanged from 1973, when the same question was asked of the public.
Even in cosmopolitan cities with visible gay populations, homosexuality is viewed as wrong by more people than think it is right. In San Francisco, attitudes were most closely divided, with 49% saying homosexuality is wrong and 44% saying it is not wrong. In Los Angeles and New York, better than 60% majorities called it wrong.
There is, however, measurable change in recent years in sympathy for gays, the largest of the high-risk groups for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The poll found evidence that many Americans are not just expressing pity for those at risk to the killer disease but are willing to back up their feelings by hiring gays and socializing comfortably with them.
Two years ago, when AIDS was not so much a consuming public matter as it is now, only 30% of the public said it was sympathetic to the homosexual community. That figure has risen to 41%. Those saying they are unsympathetic dropped during the same period from 63% to 52%.
In the big cities, clear majorities identify themselves as sympathetic: 61% in New York, 56% in San Francisco and 52% in Los Angeles.
To measure if these feelings translate into action, the poll asked Americans if they are in favor of hiring gay men and lesbians. Exactly 50% said they are, with 33% opposed and the remainder uncertain.
Asked if they feel uncomfortable around homosexuals, 50% said no. Of the remainder, 6% said only gay men make them uncomfortable, 11% said only lesbians make them uncomfortable and 18% said gays and lesbians both make them uncomfortable. Fourteen percent said they are not sure.
AIDS Antibodies Test
Ten percent of those responding in the poll identified themselves as homosexual and 5% said they know someone who has tested positive for AIDS antibodies. More than half of the respondents, 54%, said they do not know or believe that any associates or family members are homosexuals. Twenty-four percent said they know gays and 21% said they believe that some people around them are gay.
Strong phobias appear to remain about homosexuals in American society.
Eighty-nine percent of those responding said they would be upset if their children grew up to be homosexual.
Twenty-eight percent said they believe that AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuals, a charge voiced by some conservative leaders despite medical evidence that the disease can also be transmitted between heterosexuals, although that is rarely the case in the United States. And 23% said AIDS victims are “getting what they deserve.”
Finally, even if they feel sympathetic about gays, most Americans think that AIDS has set off a wave of anti-homosexual feeling among others in the land. Fifty-nine percent said they detect such a backlash.
8,002 U.S. Deaths
AIDS destroys the body’s immune system, leaving the victim vulnerable to a variety of tumors and infectious diseases. As of Monday, 15,581 AIDS cases and 8,002 deaths had been reported in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. AIDS is transmitted through body fluids, primarily by sexual contact and the sharing of unsterilized hypodermic needles. Those at highest risk include homosexual and bisexual men and intravenous drug users.
The poll also included questions on broader moral and social issues.
Respondents said that adultery is morally wrong (85%), that it is not best for a man to be the sole family breadwinner (52%) and that they support the broad goals of feminism (63%). In those instances in which recent polling data was available, there appeared to be little change in these views.
In the case of premarital sex, however, there was a turn in attitudes over the years. In 1972, 46% thought it wrong and now only 35% think it is wrong.
The latest poll found 14% of the public believing that divorces should be easier to obtain and 39% saying the process should be more difficult. In answer to the age-old question, “Will you still respect me if we do it now rather than wait until marriage?” those saying yes totaled 74%.
‘Old-Fashioned Life Style’
Is this a sick society? Thirty-nine percent of those polled said yes and 55% said no. Are morals getting better or worse? Of those polled, 70% said worse and 17% better.
“You hear a lot of talk these days about . . . a return to a more old-fashioned life style,” said I. A. Lewis, director of The Times Poll. “We tried to measure that in light of the AIDS epidemic, and there is very little evidence of change in that direction.”
Eighty-one percent of those polled said AIDS has had no effect on the way they conduct their lives, 13% said there had been some small change and 4% said there had been major changes.
Those polled expressed uncertain feelings about news coverage of AIDS. Sixty percent said public hysteria over AIDS is a creation of the media, but 59% said they think news coverage does not exaggerate the threat of AIDS.
The telephone survey of 2,308 people was conducted Dec. 5 to 12. More than 100 questions were asked.
ATTITUDES ABOUT SEX
These Los Angeles Times Poll results of interviews between Dec. 5 and 12 with 2,308 people nationwide show attitudes on sexuality. The percentages of those taking strong positions are compared with those from earlier nationwide polls by the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago (NORC), the American Institute of Public Opinion (Gallup) and The Times Poll.
% WHO BELIEVE PREMARITAL SEX WRONG 1972* 46%
% WHO BELIEVE EXTRAMARITAL SEX WRONG 1973*84%
% WHO BELIEVE HOMOSEXUAL SEX WRONG 1973* 76%
% WHO ARE UNCOMFORTABLE AROUND GAYS 1983 38%
% WHO SEE U.S. AS “SICK SOCIETY” 1968 36%
% WHO SAY THEY ARE SYMPATHETIC TO GAYS 1983 30%
% WHO BELIEVE U.S. MORALS ARE “BETTER” 1968 8%
% WHO SAY IT IS EASY TO TELL RIGHT FROM WRONG 1981 74%
Sources: * NORCGallupTimes Poll