British attitudes to same-sex relations have plateaued, survey suggests

Liberal Britain may have reached its peak, with a consistent percentage of the population steadfastly uncomfortable with same-sex relationships and sex out of wedlock, a bellwether report has suggested.

Research conducted as part of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey signalled that the country has “reached a point of plateau”, where acceptance of those not fitting within “conventional norms” appears to have levelled off.

But researchers predict there is “still some way to go” in terms of people’s attitudes towards members of the transgender community.

Nancy Kelley, deputy chief executive of the National Centre for Social Research which carried out the study, told PA: “In 1983, people would have been happy to say they are not comfortable with same-sex relations. Obviously, attitudes have changed quite a lot since then.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that we will see that same liberalisation as we saw in attitudes to gay and lesbian people with the trans community as the public becomes more accustomed to it.”

Of the nearly 3,000 people polled, 74% said pre-marital sexual relations were “not wrong at all”, down from 75% the previous two years.

It also marked the first drop since falling from 63% in 2005 to 60% the following year, indicating the growing acceptance of sex out of wedlock has been stymied.

Similarly, 66% of those polled in 2018 said same-sex relations were “not wrong at all”, down from 68% the previous year.

This was the first fall since 1987, when it was at 11%, down from 12% in the previous survey.

Revellers during the Pride in London Parad
Revellers during the Pride in London Parad

Figures released on Thursday show more than four-fifths of the population (83%) state they are “not prejudiced at all” towards transgender people, compared with just 15% who describe themselves as “very” or “a little” prejudiced.

But only 49% said they viewed prejudice against transgender people as “always” wrong, while 6% said it was “rarely” or “never” wrong.

The survey has been conducted periodically since the early 1980s to gauge long-term comparison of British attitudes to a variety of subjects.

However, questions relating to LGBT issues have only been included recently.

The report said: “The proportion stating that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are ‘not wrong at all’ has now remained at around two-thirds for the past three years, indicating that while social norms have changed, there is a significant minority of the population who remain uncomfortable with same-sex relationships, and as such we may have reached a point of plateau.”

It added: “As with attitudes towards pre-marital sex, which we have seen follow a similar trajectory, this liberalisation of attitudes does appear to be slowing down.”

The report found people aged 25-34 are least likely to agree that “most people who are transgender have gone through this process because of a very superficial and temporary need”, with 9% of those polled believing this, compared with those aged 65 or older – 17% of which agreed with the statement.

Similarly those aged 25-34, and those aged 45-54, were least likely to describe themselves as prejudiced against trans people (11%) compared with those in the over-65s category, who were most likely (22%).

The research showed that 93% of those with no religion agreed that premarital sex was “rarely wrong” or “not wrong at all”, compared with 82% of those who were Anglican or Roman Catholic, 66% who were from another branch of Christianity, and 35% of those who followed a faith other than Christianity.

Similarly, a greater percentage (73%) of non-religious respondents agreed that same sex couples should be able to form a civil partnership, compared with 67% of Anglicans, 59% of Roman Catholics, 58% of “other Christians”, and 34% of people of other faiths.