An interesting new survey came out, of 38,000 people across 39 countries, asking about their acceptance of homosexuality. A few predictable trends emerge, and a few trends that allow us to make predictions:
- Geographical spread. Most of the highly accepting countries are the obvious candidates: Western Europe (Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, France, UK, Italy), Canada and Australia. Argentina is perhaps not so surprisingly, being one the first countries in Latin America to legalise same-sex marriage, but the Phillipines is a surprise to me. The most homophobic countries are pretty much all the countries of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, plus a few others such as Russia, China and El Salvador. Somewhere in between are the US, eastern Europe and Japan.
- Demographic trends. Within each country, the same trends emerge - young women are the least homophobic and old men are the most homophobic. The most striking examples of the age difference are Japan and South Korea, where homophobia in the 50+ category is common (61% and 84%, respectively), while it is rare in the 18-29 age group (17% and 29%). The most striking example of sex differences is Israel, where homophobia is normal in men (69%) and more balanced in women (51%).
- Changing attitudes. In the past five years, the greatest decline in homophobia has come in South Korea (-21%), America (-11%), Canada (-10%) and Italy (-9%). The greatest increase (+6%) was measured in France, but hopefully that is just a temporary blip associated with the conservative attack on marriage equality.
- Religion promotes homophobia. Yeah, not exactly headline-making news, but the correlation is extremely strong, with only a few examples breaking the trend (China and Russia are relatively low religion countries with common homophobia, the Philippines is a highly religious country with low homophobia).
Interesting side-note: all the countries in the Americas fall above the curve (meaning, they are less homophobic than you would expect based on religiosity), while all the countries in Africa and the Middle East (both Islamic and Christian countries) fall below the curve (meaning that they are more homophobic than can be explained by the religious effect alone). This could indicate a cultural component independent of religion, or (my preferred interpretation) that the relationship is sigmoidal rather than linear, a model which would account for the "threshold effect".
- Conflict between policy and public opinion. In comparing public opinion to policy, most countries match up (ie, homophobic countries have homophobic policies, such as banning same-sex marriage). There are a few exceptions, however. In particular, there are a cluster of countries with very accepting attitudes to homosexuality where same-sex marriage is still illegal - notably Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Italy, Australia, Phillipines and Chile. The only clear example of the opposite (the law being more open than public opinion) is South Africa, which has a unique LGBTQ history (the apartheid government was virulently anti-gay and anti-communist as well as being racist, and the unification of these groups helped form the new country).
Where we can expect rapid political change on same-sex marriage.
UK and Ireland. The public is clearly in favour of same-sex marriage and the major parties support it. Expect to see legal same-sex marriage in England, Scotland and Wales within a year, and in Northern Ireland within two years. Ireland wasn't surveyed here, but the trends are the same as in the UK, with the added factor that the Catholic Church has lost its supposed moral authority badly after the scandals relating to child rape and women dying due to no access to abortion.
Germany, Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Finland. Really it is bizzare that these countries don't already have same-sex marriage. The public is so overwhelmingly in support that it is only the presence of centre-right governments that is stopping marriage equality. Expect to see governments change their mind within the next year to try to gain some of the youth vote, otherwise there will be new elections soon after anyway.
Chile. Homophobia is dying in Chile and the rapid progress in South America will galvanise support. There are no pesky constitutional bans against same-sex marriage, so change could happen almost overnight if a big push starts.
Where political change on same-sex marriage will come soon.
Australia. Like I did, a lot of young Australians think 'Mardi Gras' means 'gay parade', not some religious festival. Australia has every component required for movement on same-sex marriage - a large urban population, public support, no constitutional ban, a vibrant LGBTQ scene - except the political climate. If the left won the elections in September, same-sex marriage would be legal within a year, but since the conservatives will probably win, expect it to be five years instead.
America. Homophobia is more common in America than in Western Europe, but the Democratic leadership has finally come around and the progressive states are legalising same-sex marriage one-by-one. There is an outside chance the Supreme Court will allow same-sex marriage nation-wide, but more likely it will take a big Democratic win in 2016 before this is even seriously on the legislative agenda.
Ten years from now...
The Philippines and Italy. There is overwhelming public support for the LGBTQ community in the Philippines and Italy, but the Catholic Bishops have iron-strong control over the political system, with politicans too gutless to cross them. Same-sex marriage will happen, but politicans first need to learn that crossing the Church won't cost many votes.
Japan and South Korea. The public is nearly there right now, and the demographic shift in opinion is stronger in Japan and South Korea than anywhere else in the world. Still, Japan and South Korea have very long life expectancies and notoriously elderly politicans, so the change will be slow to come.
China. China is the opposite of Japan. Homophobia is still common in the public (79%), even among the young (68%), but change can happen so fast in China that you wouldn't bet against it. The lack of a hard-line religious opposition will certainly help.
The rest of the EU. Once the majority of the EU has marriage equality, I would not be surprised if the EU parliament started to push for EU-wide human rights legislation, pushing down the opposition of the final hold-outs such as Poland.
The rest of Latin America. Give them 10 years, and the rest of the continent will realise the sky didn't fall.
Not in my lifetime.
Russia, the Middle East and the rest of South Asia and Africa. Sadly, there are no signs of change in these countries. The horrificly high levels of homophobia are just as high in the young, and these countries are more likely to reinstate the death penalty for homosexuality than to permit same-sex marriage.