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Poll majority: Gays' orientation can't change

Story Highlights

• CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll finds attitudes evolving
• For first time, majority think homosexuality is unchangeable
• In 1977, 13 percent of poll respondents said gays were born that way
• 39 percent in latest poll say people are born gay
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(CNN) -- A majority of Americans believe that gays and lesbians could not change their sexual orientation even if they wanted to, according to results of a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday.

It's the first time in a CNN poll the majority has held that belief regarding homosexuality.

Fifty-six percent of about 515 poll respondents said they do not believe sexual orientation can be changed. In 2001, 45 percent of those responding to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll held that belief. In 1998, according to a CNN/Time poll, the number was 36 percent.

In addition, 42 percent of respondents to the current poll said they believe homosexuality results from upbringing and environment, while 39 percent said they believe it is something a person is born with -- a close division that reflects the national debate over the issue.

However, those numbers are greatly changed from the 1970s and '80s, in which fewer than 20 percent of Americans said a person is born homosexual. In a 1977 poll, the number was 13 percent.

Ten percent in the latest poll said they believe both factors play a role in someone's homosexuality. Three percent said neither, and 6 percent had no opinion.

The sampling error for the results released Wednesday, in which the question was asked of a half-sample of 1,029 telephone poll respondents, is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday.

In a poll conducted May 4-6 that dealt with other issues regarding homosexuality, participants were asked whether openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, which currently has a "don't ask-don't tell" policy on homosexuality. Seventy-nine percent of poll respondents said openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. Eighteen percent said they should not.

On the question of gay marriage, 43 percent of respondents in May said they would not support same-sex marriage or civil unions, which provide many, if not most, of the same legal protections as marriage. Twenty-four percent said they supported same-sex marriage, while 27 percent opted for civil unions.

But a majority of poll respondents -- 57 percent -- said gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to adopt children. Forty percent said they should not.

The sampling error for those questions was plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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The rainbow flag is a symbol of gay pride. Fifty-six percent of poll respondents say gays can't change their orientation.

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