ST: 7 in 10 frown on homosexuality, NTU survey finds (Sep 20)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

20 Sep 2007
Straits Times

7 in 10 frown on homosexuality, NTU survey finds
By Radha Basu, Community Correspondent
(People most likely to be anti-gay: The religious and those who conform to social norms)

SEVEN in 10 people here frown on homosexuality, a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) study has found.

The study - which its authors claim is the first 'nationally representative' survey of its kind here - found two key predictors of sentiments here: how deeply religious a person was and how far he or she conformed to social norms.

The study by NTU's School of Communication and Information was published recently in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, which maps public opinion worldwide.

To gather the data, more than 1,000 people, profiled to resemble the national population, were asked six questions to gauge their attitudes towards lesbians and homosexuals.

For example, they were asked whether sex between two men or two women was 'plain wrong' and whether homosexuals or lesbians were 'disgusting'.

It was found that 68.6per cent of respondents 'generally held negative attitudes', 22.9per cent had positive attitudes and 8.5per cent were neutral.

Besides answering the questions, participants had to give their age, income, education level, gender and marital status. They also had to answer questions designed to gauge how religious they were and how strongly they felt about conforming to social norms.

Through statistical calculations, the study concluded that 'intrinsic religiosity' - viewing religion as the primary driving force in life - was the strongest predictor of anti-gay sentiment here.

On average, Christians and Muslims were seen to hold 'significantly more negative attitudes' than Buddhists or freethinkers.

Those who conformed to social norms also tended to view homosexuality more dimly.

Adherence to norms was assessed through questions such as whether one believed following family and social expectations was important.

Although gender did not influence attitudes much, two other demographic factors - marital status and age - did.

As in the West, most married people and older folk tended to hold a more negative view of homosexuality than those who were single or young, noted Associate Professor Benjamin Detenber, the principal researcher in the study.

But unlike in the West, where women tended to be more tolerant of gays than men, there was no major distinction here, said Prof Detenber.

The survey results did not surprise MP Sin Boon Ann, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports.

On granting more rights to homosexuals, he said: 'We are a conservative society and will not be trailblazers in this regard.'

He added that Singapore's public stand on the issue, including the recent move to continue regarding male homosexual sex as an offence, was a 'statement of values' rather than a 'statement of rights and obligations'.

The National Council of Churches here agreed, saying that the study confirmed Singapore society's inclination to 'uphold traditional and pro-family values'.

People's attitudes towards homosexuality here, said the council's general secretary Lim K Tham, may have been shaped by 'an upbringing influenced by religion and government policies that were family-centric'.

Whether the law that criminalises homosexual sex among men should be repealed was a matter of fierce debate in the recent review of the Penal Code.

The Government said that public feedback made it clear that the majority of people felt the law should stay.

Gay rights activist Alex Au said the lack of 'positive gay role models' could have led to anti-gay sentiments here.

However, he sees a definite softening in attitudes in the NTU findings.

Noting that a 2001 government survey showed that 85per cent found homosexuality 'unacceptable', he said: 'From 85per cent negative to 70per cent in a few years is a rapid change in attitudes.'

He conceded that the questions in the two surveys were different, but added: 'It's unlikely that lay respondents would concern themselves with such academic differences.'