Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

An acceptable lifestyle

A Gallup telephone poll of 1003 American adults conducted 10-13 May, Lydia Saad reports, reveals a population with a very peculiar set of moral judgements. As if to underscore the confusion, she (or her editor) titles her article ‘Tolerance for Gay Rights at High Ebb’.

The respondents were fairly evenly divided on whether ‘homosexual relations’ were morally acceptable with a small plurality of 49% saying they were not. Curiously, however, while 47%, the highest proportion recorded since 2001, reckoned they were morally acceptable, 57%, also a peak, agreed that ‘Homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle’ and 59% that ‘homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal’. Like most of these Gallup polls, claims a maximum ‘margin of error’ of ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level and 3% had no opinion. So the discrepancy of two percentage points could arise from either of those factors, but it is kind of nice to think that there are Americans so tolerant that they believe practices they consider unacceptable should be legal. Beyond that, a huge majority of 89% said, ‘Homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities’, but only 46% thought ‘Same-sex marriages should be legally valid’.

Two findings of the survey really took me by surprise.

For one thing, out of a list of 16 practices, the highest proportion, 66%, found the death penalty ‘morally acceptable’, while only 27% found it ‘morally wrong’, second lowest after divorce (26%). As I already mentioned, nearly twice as many, 49%, said homosexual relations were morally wrong. In comparison, 37% and 38% respectively objected to medical testing on animals and wearing animal fur.

Although they don’t appear to have inquired about polyandry for some reason, an astonishing 90% actually think it’s wrong for a man to have more than one wife, second only to extramarital affairs, 91%. If you want to have sex with a woman who’s not your wife, most Americans must think you should marry her as well.

A large majority of 78% said suicide was immoral, but it drops to 44% if it is ‘doctor assisted’. As they don’t seem to have made the question wording for this one available, it’s not altogether clear whether the 44% think it’s immoral to commit suicide with assistance from a physician, or for the physician to assist. Either way, it’s pretty weird.

The other thing was that an increasing proportion believe that ‘homosexuality’ is ‘something a person is born with’, as opposed to ‘due to factors such as upbringing and environment’. They have been asking this question since 1977, when only 13% thought homosexuality was hereditary, and there are now more biological determinists, standing at 42%, than the 35% who attribute it to environmental factors.

It turns out that there’s a strong correlation between the ‘nature’ theory and considering ‘homosexuality’ an acceptable lifestyle. Specifically, 78% of the biological determinists thought it was ok, in comparison to only 30% among the ‘nurture’ camp. But what could it possibly mean to be born with a ‘lifestyle’?

Now, I’m not real comfortable with discussing ‘homosexuality’ as if it were some kind of medical condition. It makes about as much sense to construct people’s choice of sexual partners as a condition, or perhaps worse, as an identity, as it does to ascribe some moral value to that kind of choice.

Anyway, I suppose it should come as no surprise that people who think gays are born that way and there’s nothing the poor dears can do about it would find their lifestyle ‘acceptable’, while those who reckon they just decide to be queer out of damn cussedness think it’s not.

On the other hand, tolerance and acceptance are not traits I usually associate with biological determinists. Once you assert that ‘homosexuals’ are inherently different from ‘normal’ people – after all ‘they’ have ‘homosexuality’, where does that lead? If ‘they’ are biologically different from ‘us normal people’, doesn’t that inevitably mean there’s something wrong with ‘them’? If ‘homosexuality’ is a lifestyle that you are born with and it’s ok to pass judgements on whether it’s acceptable or not, what about women? Although Gallup didn’t ask about it, I’m sure lots of people believe women are born female. I believe it myself. I wonder if Gallup will ask whether people believe ‘femininity’, or ‘blackness’, is ‘an acceptable lifestyle’?

No comments:

Post a Comment