The Pew Research Center, as part of a fascinating new report on global attitudes toward homosexuality, asked people in 39 different countries a deceptively straightforward question: “Should society accept homosexuality?” People could answer yes, no or decline the question.
The “yes” answers are mapped out above. In red countries, less than 45 percent of respondents said homosexuality should be accepted by society. In blue countries, more than 55 percent said it should be accepted. Purple countries fall in that middle range of about half.
We’ll dive into the data below, but first a few important caveats. The first and most obvious is, as we’ve mentioned before, a phenomenon we might call the political correctness effect. It’s possible, for example, that while 80 percent of Canadians say that society should accept homosexuality, maybe some proportion of those people don’t actually believe it but simply feel that they shouldn’t admit their true feelings out loud. Of course, this is still a kind of tolerance, but it’s not the same as earnest acceptance. Another caveat is that definitions of who counts as homosexual are not necessarily the same in all countries; sexuality, like race, is a social construct, which means that it can vary across countries. So a Ugandan and a Chilean might be thinking of different sorts of people when they answer this question.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s no definition of what the question means when it asks if society “should accept” homosexuality; respondents are left to decide for themselves what constitutes acceptance. It’s entirely plausible, for example, that respondents in France were polled during their country’s debate over gay marriage, and so may have naturally considered marriage rates to be the metric for accepting homosexuality. Or maybe Ugandans assumed “accepting homosexuality” would mean rejecting a controversial bill in the country that, if passed, would prescribe harsh penalties up to and including the death penalty for homosexuality. The point is that Ugandans and French would have approached the question differently and so their answers are not perfectly comparable. Still, whatever self-defined metric the respondents used for accepting or rejecting homosexuality, perhaps just as important as that metric is whether or not the individual respondents thought that they themselves met that definition. If someone says they accept or reject homosexuality, that decision is as potentially important as the way that measure it.
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