Advertisement
News

Why Do 16 Percent of Britons Think Gay Sex Should Be Illegal?

I called up gay rights charity Stonewall for an answer.

by Amelia Abraham
29 September 2014, 3:37pm

The grooms at one of the UK's first same-sex weddings (Photo by Jake Lewis)

This weekend, the Observer published findings from a survey of 1,052 British adults on their sexual attitudes and behaviours. The study found that 16 percent of participants believe that gay sex should be made illegal, compared with 24 percent back in 2008.

Technically, that's progress, but it doesn't really feel like it. In fact, it feels completely archaic in a time when gay people in Britain possess the same rights to marriage and parenthood as straight people. But hey, maybe attitudes are just slower to catch up than legislation?

What was most surprising about the study was that this statistic peaked from 16 percent to 21 percent among respondents in London and the South East. These results align with a 2013 Galop survey on hate crime that found, relative to gay population, London has the highest rate of homophobic crime in the UK. Why is London - a place many would consider to be the most metropolitan city in the UK - also showing the highest levels of intolerance towards gay people?

I called Richard Lane, media manager for gay rights charity Stonewall, to discuss the study.

VICE: Hi Richard. Are you surprised by the statistic that 16 percent of Brits think gay sex should be criminalised?
Richard Lane: I think it's sad when loving relationships between two consenting adults are frowned upon and deemed to be something that should be illegal. But, given where we have come from 10, 20, 30 years ago, this 16 percent is a rapidly diminishing group of people. It's a sign of progress, but also a sign of the huge amount of work that we have to do to convince people that those views are antiquated in modern Britain.

From the research you've done at Stonewall, does that statistic sound right to you?
Well, our research shows that an overwhelming majority of the public supports equality for gay, lesbian and transgender people. But then there are always going to be a small group of people who don't support that level of equality.

Do you have any thoughts on why there were more men who believe gay sex should be criminalised than women? The study also found that women were more supportive of the right for gay people to adopt. 
I don't think this is the first survey that's shown up that disparity. I've certainly seen other surveys and other polling that suggested some level of disparity between the genders in terms of support for equality, support for same-sex couples parenting. It's difficult to know why. It's possibly because issues around homophobia have often been wrapped up in a macho culture and the idea that being gay is a digression from the norm of masculinity.

What about findings that, in London and the South East, 21 percent of people think gay sex should be illegal. Why do you think the statistic is higher in London?
That's a statistic that we've seen thrown up a couple of times recently. Most people who live in London know that it's a phenomenal multicultural city and a great place to grow up gay. But one survey that springs to mind is that London's teachers were the least likely to know they could discuss issues like same-sex parents with pupils than any other teachers across the whole country. That's really worrying.

London is held up as beacon in terms of its progressive attitudes, but I think there's a bit of complacency in that we automatically assume the job's been accomplished in London because it has such a phenomenal gay scene. That's certainly not the case. If we look at hate crime in London, we've seen some really high profile incidents in places like Shoreditch and Vauxhall, both of which have vibrant gay scenes.

As you said, London is hugely multicultural. Do you think religion plays a part in the spike of conservative values there? 
It think it's possible. We've not seen any stats that directly make that correlation, but there are big religious communities across London, and we've done work in Christian and Muslim communities to make sure that we put the mission across for support of equality from those groups.

Do you think the passing of gay marriage laws this year creates an illusion that we're moving towards a form of equality faster than we actually are? And that social attitudes are in fact slower to catch up?
Yes, I think what we've seen in terms of legislative change over the past decade or so is that there was an overwhelming majority in favour of gay marriage, but I think I'd agree with you in that it creates an illusion of "job done". We speak to people who say, "We can get married now. What's the problem? I don't see what there is left to do."

It was only a few years ago that a gay man was kicked to death in Trafalgar Square, in the centre of London. You only need to look at that to know that no matter how hard or fast you come with legislation, there is a hell of a long way to go in changing hearts and minds.

I think there's a serious gap between attitudes towards gay marriage and attitudes towards gay sex. People seem to support gay marriage because it's a heterosexual construct, but then there may be other aspects of gay culture that people are less supportive of.
There are a number of gay people who may not wish to get married themselves and will want to have relationships and structures that suit them. And we wouldn't want legislative equality to be at the expense of acceptance for their relationships and their version of being gay. 

So this statistic - this 16 percent - has fallen from 24 percent. It's positive in a way, but also a bit shit. Are things getting better? Is equality something we can ever really achieve?
I think if we look at where the statistic would have been a decade ago, it's drastically improved. We've gone from Section 28 to marriage equality in 25 years. We've repealed the ban on gay people serving in the military and gay people can now have children. That's been achieved in a really short space of time, and I can't think of a campaign for legislative equality that has achieved its main goals in such quick succession.

But we don't want that to give the impression that legislation was the soul objective; we only need to look at hate crime in Britain and the level of bullying in schools to show that's not the case. More then half of young people growing up to be gay or bisexual report they are severely bullied either physically or mentally. We see horrendous levels of depression and suicide in the gay community.

So how do we carry on improving?
I think the fact we have marriage equality is a really powerful signal. When people can see that a lot of gay couples are as loving, committed and mundane as other couples, it sends a powerful message. The fact young people are going to be brought up to see women marrying each other and men marrying each other is a powerful signal.

We also want to see things like compulsory sexual relationship education in age-appropriate ways, for schools to be teaching pupils about the reality of modern Britain - that people come in all shapes and sizes, sexualities, races and religions - and to teach that in a really positive way to young people. That's going to be the only way, I think, that we'll make real progress.

Thanks, Richard.

@MillyAbraham

More LGBT stories:

The Future of Our Gay Neighbourhoods

We Spoke to the Writer of the Controversial Book 'Lesbian for a Year'

The Brokeback Cowboys of Ohio's Gay Rodeo