Acceptance of gay sex in decline in UK for first time since Aids crisis Acceptance of gay sex in decline in UK for first time since Aids crisis Number of people believing there is nothing wrong with gay sex has fallen, survey finds Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent Wed 10 Jul 2019 19.01 EDT Last modified on Wed 10 Jul 2019 19.45 EDT The gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said the findings represented a ‘worrying trend’. Photograph: Felix Clay Thirty years of increasingly liberal attitudes towards gay sex may be coming to an end after the number of people who said they considered it wrong rose for the first time since the Aids crisis. In 1987 when every household received sombre leaflets warning “don’t die of ignorance”, nine out of 10 people thought there was something wrong with sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. Every year since, tolerance had increased, but now the British Social Attitudes Survey has found the number of people believing there is nothing wrong with gay sex has fallen, leaving a third of the population in some way opposed. The finding, based on a survey of 2,884 people, coincided with the first dip in more than a decade in people saying they think sex before marriage is not at all wrong, with people from non-Christian religious groups the most likely to disapprove. “Liberalisation of attitudes does seem to be slowing down,” said the independent social research agency NatCen, which carried out the research. “While social norms have changed, there is a significant minority of the population who remain uncomfortable with same-sex relationships and as such we may have reached a point of plateau.” The gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said it was “a worrying trend”, while the Christian Institute, an educational charity that believes sex should only happen in a marriage between a man and a woman, said signs of a reversal may be a result of pushback against a “new orthodoxy that not to celebrate same-sex relations is homophobic”. The survey also found that a third of people consider that prejudice against transgender people is only “mostly” or “sometimes” wrong, while 6% said it was rarely or never wrong. The authors of the study cautioned it would require future polling to confirm whether the small rise in people who consider gay sex to be in some way wrong was statistically significant. But they predicted that the minority of opponents to same-sex relations, including religious groups, would become increasingly determined to make their socially conservative views heard in public discussions on gender and relationships. Religious and politically conservative groups have been increasingly vocal in their resistance to social liberalism. This week, parents at Parkfield community school in Saltley, Birmingham, restarted protests over the teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in schools, arguing the lessons are inconsistent with their understanding of Islam. They had previously won support from senior Conservative politicians including Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey, who said parents should have the right to choose what their children were taught. Tatchell said Ukip, the Brexit party and the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs had all attracted politicians who were vocally opposed to gay rights. The former Ukip MEP Bill Etheridge quit the party last year saying it was seen as “a vehicle of hate towards Muslims and the gay community”, while the Brexit party MEP Ann Widdecombe last month said science could one day “produce an answer” to being gay. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the ERG, has said he is opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds. “[The survey] suggests there is a one-third hardcore of people resisting acceptance of two people of the same sex who love one another,” Tatchell said. “The question is whether these people translate their views into support for political movements that want to roll back the gains of the LGBT+ community.” The House of Commons on Tuesday voted in favour of extending gay marriage rights to Northern Ireland, but the decision could yet be rolled back if a new Northern Ireland Assembly is established. Boris Johnson, the favourite to be the next prime minister, said it was “a matter for the people of Northern Ireland”. Polls suggest people in Northern Ireland are overwhelmingly in favour of the move, but the socially conservative Democratic Unionist party, whose leader, Arlene Foster, was the last first minister of Northern Ireland, is opposed to it. Nancy Kelley, the deputy chief executive of NatCen, suggested the possible plateauing of attitudes to gay sex could correlate with a steady decline in religiosity, which had left a rump of more committed believers whose social views were harder to shift. Over the last decade the number of people identifying as religious fell from 68% to 47%, the survey found, although the percentage identifying as Muslim doubled from 3% to 6% and non-denominational Christians, a category which includes Pentecostalists, rose from 10% to 13%. Ciarán Kelly, the deputy director of the non-denominational Christian Institute, said there had been “increasing pressure on people who are happy to tolerate sexual relations between adults of the same sex to endorse or celebrate it”. “We saw that with the case of the bakery in Northern Ireland where the bakers were under pressure not just to be tolerant of homosexuality, but to endorse it by supplying a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage,” he said. “The bakers won their case at the supreme court.” He said people who shared their biblical views should not be afraid to speak out “as long as they’re respectful and reasonable”.