In the three countries, support for same-sex marriage is more evident among members of the two youngest generations.
A comprehensive three-country survey on attitudes towards homosexuality reveals that Canadians and Britons are more inclined to support the legal recognition of same-sex couples than Americans.
The online survey of representative national samples of 1,003 Canadian adults, 1,002 American adults, and 1,980 British adults shows that younger generations are clearly more accepting of same-sex relations. However, the poll also confirms that younger Americans—born between 1980 and 1995—are more conservative than their Canadian and British counterparts in all matters related to homosexuality.
Three-in-five Canadians (61%) want same-sex marriage to remain legal in their country. In Britain, two-in-five respondents (41%) support legalizing same-sex marriage, while just over a third of respondents in the United States (36%) concur.
A quarter of Canadians (23%) would prefer to see same-sex couples establishing civil unions. The same proportion of Americans (23%) agrees with this concept (23%), while in Britain this is the preferred course of action for 37 per cent of respondents.
The U.S. holds the highest proportion of respondents who believe that couples of the same sex should not be entitled to any legal recognition (32%). Only 15 per cent of Britons and 13 per cent of Canadians hold this view.
Referendums on Definition of Marriage
The survey asked Americans and Britons to pretend they have to vote in a referendum—such as the many ballots that have been held in several American states already—to establish a definition of marriage. Most Americans (54%) would vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and just over a third (36%) would vote to define it as a union between two people. The vote would be tighter in Britain, where 47 per cent choosing the first option, and 42 per cent voting for the latter.
In California, Proposition 8 restored the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, and effectively banned same-sex marriages in the state. A U.S. District Court is reviewing the constitutional validity of Proposition 8, but the case is expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which may end up ruling about the validity of same-sex marriage at the federal level.
American respondents were asked about their expectations on an eventual Supreme Court ruling on this matter. Almost half (47%) expect the Supreme Court to define marriages federally as between a man and a woman, while only three-in-ten (31%) think the ruling will define it as a union between two people.
As for their own personal preference on how the Supreme Court should rule, a majority of Americans (55%) would like to see a federal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
In the question of preference versus biology, a majority of Canadians (59%) and Britons (56%) think that homosexuality is something people are born with. Conversely, 44 per cent of Americans say people choose to be homosexuals, while a smaller proportion (37%) thinks people are born this way.
Gay and Lesbian Celebrities
One fifth of American respondents (20%) say that if their favourite actor announced he is gay, their opinion of him would worsen. This compares to just 10 per cent of Canadians and nine per cent of Britons who would feel the same way.
Americans (18%) are also more likely than Canadians and Britons (both at 9%) to say that their opinion of their favourite actress would change for the worse if she came out as a lesbian.
A quarter of Americans (25%) admit that, if their favourite male sports figure came out as gay, their opinion of him would worsen—along with 14 per cent of Canadians and 11 per cent of Britons.
The impact on a female sports figure’s popularity would be milder if she were to announce she is a lesbian, with 18 per cent of Americans, nine per cent of Canadians and eight per cent of Britons saying that they would think less of her.
Older respondents in all three countries are clearly more resistant to accept same-sex relations than those in younger generations. In Canada, 43 per cent of respondents born before 1946 support the continuous legality of same-sex marriages. At the other end of the spectrum, 81 per cent of Canadians born after 1980 feel the same way.
In the U.S., there is little difference in opinions between respondents born between 1965 and 1979 and those born after 1980: 42 per cent in the first group and 48 per cent in the latter support same-sex marriage.
In Britain, the two youngest generations are not too far apart: 52 per cent of those born from 1965 to 1979 and 56 per cent of the youngest respondents support same-sex marriage. However, only 35 per cent of people born from 1946 to 1964 concur.
Friends and Relatives
Throughout the survey, it is clear that respondents in all three countries who have a friend or relative who is gay or lesbian are more inclined than others to come out in favour of legal rights for same-sex couples.
Support for same-sex marriage among respondents with gay or lesbian friends or relatives stands at 67 per cent in Canada, 54 per cent in Britain, and 49 per cent in the United States. However, respondents who do not have any gay or lesbian friends or relatives are not as supportive (50% in Canada, 29% in Britain and 20% in the U.S.).
Mario Canseco, Vice President, Public Affairs
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Methodology: From July 12 to July 16, 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,003 Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists, 1,002 American adults who are Springboard America panellists, and 1,980 British adults who are Springboard UK panellists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1% for Canada and the United States, and 2.2% for Great Britain. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of Canada, the US and Great Britain. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.