By Madeline O’Connor
Attitudes towards same-sex relationships in Northern Ireland have softened over the past two decades, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.
In the survey carried out by ARK, the proportion of participants who believe that same-sex relations are “always wrong” was down from 76 per cent in 1989 to 28 per cent in 2012.
Dr Nicola Carr from Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, said: “Over half of the survey’s respondents expressed support for same-sex marriage, however, over one third disapproved of gay adoption and also to lesbians having access to fertility treatment on the same basis as heterosexual women. At least one in four people did not believe that a lesbian or gay parent or parents with a child constituted a ‘family’.
“The survey also found that, in general, females and those aged under 65 were more likely to report positive attitudes to same-sex relationships.”
Fellow researcher Dr Siobhan McAlister said that in terms of parenting and family life, attitudes were found to have changed less. She added: “Respondents declaring a Protestant affiliation were more likely to report negative attitudes towards same-sex marriage than Catholics, or people declaring ‘no religion’. For example, while the majority of those who presented as having no religion (74 per cent) or as Catholic (66 per cent) supported same-sex marriage, less than half (45 per cent) of those defining as Protestant were in support of it.
“Beliefs about homosexuality were also found to be influential. People who viewed homosexuality as a ‘choice’ tended to hold more negative views than those who believed sexual orientation cannot be changed.”
The researchers also found that knowing someone who was gay or lesbian tended to promote more positive attitudes. Between 2005 and 2012, the percentage of people who knew someone who was lesbian or gay rose from 46 per cent to 70 per cent.
Keith Crawford, 30, from Belfast, left his city seven years ago and moved with his partner Val Stockmann to the German town of Dusseldorf. He told the Irish World: “I love where I’m from, but in the end I left Belfast because I felt gay people just weren’t accepted to the degree that I could live a happy life with my partner there. I was always worried about being looked at strangely or commented on or worse.
“It’s good to see that attitudes seem to be slowly changing back home, it’s about time. It would be great to think that young men from Ireland can now be with who they want to be without fear of harassment. I hope it’s a sign of even more acceptance in future.”
The survey showed that support among respondents for gay marriage tended to decrease with age. While 74 per cent of the youngest age-group were supportive of gay marriage, this figure fell to 30 per cent in the oldest age-group.
On the issue of gay adoption, the research found some softening of attitudes. In 1989, 11 per cent of people surveyed thought that lesbians should be allowed to adopt a baby under the same conditions as heterosexual couples and 5 per cent believed this in relation to gay couples. In the most recent survey, the figures had risen to 40 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.
Despite a softening of attitudes towards same-sex relationships, marriage and adoption, the NILT survey revealed that a preference for the ‘traditional’ heterosexual family remains.