Poll: Public Split on Whether Gays Can Change

The public is evenly divided on whether gays and lesbians can alter their sexual orientation (search), with white evangelicals the most likely to think homosexuals can change, a poll released Tuesday found.

Most Americans, 55 percent, say they feel that homosexuality is a sin, while 33 percent do not. Nine in 10 highly committed white evangelicals and nearly three-quarters of black Protestants say homosexual behavior is sinful.

"Evangelicals are far more likely to say homosexuals can change, Catholics and mainline Protestants fall in the middle and more secular people are most likely to say they cannot change," said Scott Keeter, a pollster with the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (search), which conducted the survey on attitudes about homosexuals.

The poll also found that opposition to gay marriage has grown since midsummer, with 32 percent favoring it and 59 percent opposing it. In July, 53 percent said they opposed gay marriage.

Massachusetts' highest court ruled Tuesday that same-sex couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution, but stopped short of allowing marriage licenses to be issued to the couples who challenged a ban on gay marriage. The Supreme Judicial Court's 4-3 ruling ordered the state Legislature to come up with a solution within 180 days.

The poll reinforced the finding that religious attitudes sharply affect feelings about gays. Those with a high level of religious commitment oppose gay marriage by 80 percent to 12 percent.

Four in five of those who say they would vote to re-elect President Bush (searchoppose gay marriage, while those who prefer that a Democrat win the presidency are evenly split on the question.

Younger adults were far more likely to say they favor gay marriage, while those between ages 20 and 30 were about evenly split. Opposition grew steadily as people's age increased. Among those in their 60s and 70s, opponents outnumber supporters by more than 4-to-1.

Americans with college degrees were closely divided on the question of gay marriage, with 49 percent opposed and 44 percent in favor of allowing that option.

Roughly half those polled said they have unfavorable opinions of gays and lesbians. But the survey found widespread opposition to discrimination against homosexuals.

The poll of 1,515 adults was taken Oct. 15-19 by the Pew Research Center on behalf of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.