Same-sex attitudes, Australia and the UK

A favourite theme of some expat gay friends living in London is how much more progressive Europe is compared to Australia on gay issues. The latest trigger was this story about how, allegedly, straight male UK uni students are now happy to kiss each other on the lips.

I’m quite willing to believe that London, or at least central London, is the gayest place on the planet. But just as data is not the plural of anecdote, a lot of well-tolerated gay men in a concentrated space doesn’t necessarily tell us a lot about attitudes overall. So I went looking for some comparable survey evidence.

The British Survey of Social Attitudes has a very similar questions in similar years to the various Australian surveys I pieced together in this post earlier this year.

To try to keep the graph fairly easy to read I have shown only the polarities of views; those who think same-sex relations are always wrong and those who think they are not wrong at all. In both cases, I am only including in the same those who answered the question (more than 10% in each country couldn’t choose).

Aust. survey date/UK survey date
All Aust surveys, with minor variations in the opening: What do you think about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex?; Brit survey: What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex?

British attitudes are a little more positive than in Australia, but what’s really striking is not just that the results are similar now but that the trends over time are also very similar.

Attitudes to gay marriage are also very similar. I noted last week that the latest Australian survey found 62% in favour, and 33% against. In Britain in 2009, 61% in favour, 33% against. (Australian question: ‘Same sex couples should be allowed to get married’; UK question ‘Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.’) However the Brits were more likely to strongly agree, 32% compared to 25%.

There appears to be a major shift in social attitudes happening almost simultaneously in two countries. Whether this is part of a global culture shift, or because Australia and Britain still have deeply intertwined cultures, I am not sure.

12 Responses to “Same-sex attitudes, Australia and the UK

  • 1
    Rajat Sood
    November 1st, 2010 20:11

    If expats who left here 10 years ago are unconsciously comparing Australian attitudes from then with UK attitudes from now, then in light of the rapid change in attitudes tracked in your chart, that could lead to a misleading impression of Australia being less progressive.

  • 2
    November 2nd, 2010 04:19

    “I’m quite willing to believe that London, or at least central London, is the gayest place on the planet. ”
    I haven’t been to London for a long time, but I doubt it’s any more so than some places in Sydney, San Francisco or Paris.

  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    November 2nd, 2010 04:44

    I haven’t been to Paris in recent years, but I have been to the other three cities you mention and the gay presence seems much more visible in London (not just ‘gay’ areas). I haven’t seen any studies of it, but at a guess because London dominates England in a way that SF or Sydney don’t dominate their countries it has concentrated the UK’s gay population, plus become a magnet for foreigners (hence Australian expats).

  • 4
    Baz 'da ordinary Aussie'
    November 2nd, 2010 07:51

    I have to admit my own stance with ‘gays’ is softening over time. I still think they’re a bit weird (too many really do fit the stereotype). I just honestly think a chromosome has come loose or something…like being a blonde, blued eyed, being big boned, whatever. It’s not their fault. And the more I interact, the more I say, he’s not a bad chap.
    And I’ve softened on the gay marraige too. Well civil unions anyway. I say, why not. So if a few want to give a peck on the lips…who cares.
    This all said though Andrew, it’s interesting that you’re showing a partial snap shot of the cultural changes. have a look at recent stories in Holland – the gayest place on the planet. Sure enough, gay assaults are rising fast. That is, their society is getting more liberal and more violent towards gays at the same time. Why is that? Have a look population numbers with a view to the peaceful religion.
    Ten bucks says this will follow in the Uk shortly…opps already has!

  • 5
    Michael "Lorenzo" Warby
    November 3rd, 2010 05:48

    Baz: You should read Bruce Bawer, who is very much on topic on that issue.

  • 6
    Peter Patton
    November 3rd, 2010 10:18


    The glory days of gay capital Sydney are long gone. But the gay capital remains New York.

  • 7
    Peter Patton
    November 3rd, 2010 10:25

    A similar phenomenon is the number of people in the UK who think Australia is the most racist place they have ever visited. These comments always dominate any Guardian mention of Oz. To them I say take a look in your own backyard some time.

  • 8
    Andrew Norton
    November 3rd, 2010 11:27

    PP – I will put this on my list of things to investigate empirically. My hunch would again be ‘not much different’ overall, though racial issues are more politicised there than here.

  • 9
    Peter Patton
    November 3rd, 2010 11:53

    And more violent!

    My impression when reading these sources – such as CIF – is people are drawing on an image of Australia that would have been more accurate decades ago, but which would – I would poist, anyway – be highly unlikely to be empirically valid in 2010.

  • 10
    Andrew Norton
    November 3rd, 2010 12:39

    True, but we should not make the mistake of thinking that the BNP are typical of English attitudes.

  • 11
    Peter Patton
    November 3rd, 2010 13:10

    Oh, absolutely. I suppose here we really are nutting out what parameters would be appropriate for any empirical comparisons. I would suggest we would not even have to ‘name names’ such as the BNP. And there is far more racist violence in the UK than that caused by the BNP! I would posit that in fact, the BNP would be involved in a tiny minority of UK incidents of racial violence.

  • 12
    November 7th, 2010 04:35

    English straights kissing each other, eh?

    Plus ca change, le plus c’est la meme chose!

    Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes should fill you in on the details.