Almost half of people in the UK are opposed to same sex couples adopting children, even though it’s been legal since 2005 in England and Wales. Our British Social Attitudes survey asks people whether they think that same sex couples should be allowed to adopt children under the same conditions as other couples; in 2012, just under half (49 per cent) of Brits say yes and 44 per cent no – a fairly even split.
Campaigners, like those behind this week’s LGBT adoption week may be frustrated that it still divides the public, but they are in tune with the direction of travel. In 1983, only 8 per cent of the population said that yes, gay parents should be able to adopt, while the overwhelming majority, 87 per cent, said that they should not. So two fifths more people support gay adoption now than 30 years ago. So who is it that New Family Social and Action for Children - the organisations behind LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week - need to convince?
Men are the group that most needs addressing. Roughly half of men think that gay couples should not be able to adopt; ten percent higher than for women. Men’s scepticism is echoed in responses to questions that separate out gay male and lesbian couples. Fifteen percent more men than women doubt same sex female couples’ ability to bring children up as well as other couples and it’s the same when it comes to same sex male couples - 47 per cent of men, in comparison to 30 per cent of women.
There is a significant age dimension, too – older people are yet to be convinced. For Generation Y and the Millennials (17-34 year olds) roughly 1 in 5 say that gay parents can’t do as good a job as other couples. For those over 55, half have concerns about lesbian parenting and almost 6 in 10 for same sex male parenting.
In fact, lesbian couples are looked on more favourably across the board when it comes to parenting. 35 per cent of all Brits don’t think that lesbian couples can bring up children as well as other couples, in comparison to 39 per cent of those who doubt gay male couples’ ability. Differentiation between lesbian and gay male couples is most apparent among men and older people – the groups most opposed to lesbian and gay adoption in general.
On the whole, though, campaigners should be pleased, and with the effects of younger more positive generations replacing older ones, opinion is set to continue in this direction. Although public perceptions have moved a long way and legislation has been in place for nearly a decade, there is still work for campaigners to do in getting the public on side.
Penny Young is Chief Executive at NatCen Social Research