Strong majority of Americans say premarital sex, divorce are 'morally acceptable': Gallup

Gallup Values and Beliefs
Gallup Values and Beliefs

An increasing majority of Americans view divorce, sex outside of marriage, gay relationships and birth control as morally acceptable while a majority of Americans continue to view abortion as morally wrong, according to new Gallup data.

Gallup released its annual Values and Beliefs poll last week, which showed that Americans are continuing to become increasingly liberal when it comes to their views on a variety of social behaviors.

The poll interviewed over 1,000 Americans from all 50 states in early May 2019 and has a margin of error of four percentage points.

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According to the data, 92 percent of Americans consider the use of birth control to be a “morally acceptable” behavior, while just six percent of Americans consider the act to be “morally wrong.”

Gallup found that 77 percent of Americans consider getting a divorce to be a morally acceptable action, while 20 percent disagreed. Meanwhile, 2 percent responded by saying that appropriateness of divorce “depends on the situation.”

By comparison, in 2001, just 59 percent of respondents said they thought divorce was morally acceptable. That year 28 percent of respondents considered divorce morally wrong and 12 percent said that the morality of divorce depended on the situation.

Since 2012, the percentage of respondents who think divorce is morally acceptable has risen by about 10 percentage points.

When it comes to sex between unmarried men and women (which many Christians consider being a sin), Gallup’s new data indicates that about 71 percent of Americans consider the act to be morally acceptable. On the flipside, 28 percent of respondents consider sex between an unmarried man and woman to be morally wrong.

In May 2001, just 53 percent of respondents said that sex between an unmarried man and unmarried woman was morally acceptable while 42 percent said it was morally wrong.

“Sex between an unmarried man and woman is at its highest point in the Gallup trend,” Gallup research consultant Megan Brenan wrote in an analysis.

A majority of Americans (58 percent), however, believe that sex between teenagers is morally wrong, while 38 percent believe it to be morally acceptable.

Only 9 percent of respondents in Gallup’s most recent survey viewed married men and women having an affair to be a morally acceptable act, while 89 percent viewed it as morally wrong.

More than twice as many respondents (18 percent) said they think polygamy is morally acceptable compared to the 7 percent of respondents who said that polygamy was morally acceptable in 2001.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said that gay and lesbian relationships were morally acceptable. That represents a 23-percentage-point increase in the last 18 years.

In 2019, 35 percent of respondents said gay and lesbian relationships were “morally wrong,” down from 53 percent in May 2001.

However, 2019 saw about a 4-percentage-point drop from 2018 in respondents who think gay or lesbian relationships are morally acceptable. 

Fifty-two percent of respondents said that doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable, while 44 percent of Americans see physician-assisted suicide as morally wrong. Two percent of respondents believe that the morality of doctor-assisted suicide depends on the situation.

In 2001, 49 percent of respondents considered doctor-assisted suicide as morally acceptable, with 40 percent saying that it is morally wrong.  

A strong majority of Americans (79 percent) continue to view suicide as a morally wrong act, while just 17 percent view the act of someone taking their own life to be morally acceptable.

As for the hot-button issue of abortion, 42 percent of respondents stated that it is morally acceptable for a mother to terminate her pregnancy, while 50 percent of respondents view the act as morally wrong. Gallup’s 2019 data on abortion views largely falls in line with the results of its surveying on the question in the past 18 years.

In 2015, an equal percentage (45 percent) viewed abortion as morally acceptable and morally wrong.

When broken down by political persuasion, only 23 percent of conservatives in 2019 viewed abortion as morally acceptable, while 73 percent of liberals said the same.

The survey’s release comes as a number of conservatives states have passed bans restricting when an abortion can and can’t be conducted. Some states have passed laws banning abortion after a heartbeat can be detected, while an Alabama law restricts almost all abortions except in the case when a mother’s life is in danger.

“A strong ideological split remains across many of the issues, but none is as divisive as abortion,” Brenan explained. “As some states move to limit or restrict abortions, the debate around this issue will likely only get more intense.”

According to the data, there are seven issues that are deemed acceptable by a majority of liberals but fewer than half of conservatives. Those include abortion, gay or lesbian relations, pornography, having a baby outside marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, smoking marijuana and sex between teenagers.

Meanwhile, there were only three issues viewed as morally acceptable by a majority of conservatives that are viewed as morally wrong by less than half of liberals. Those include medical testing on animals, wearing clothes made of animal fur and the death penalty.

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