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When it comes to acceptance of LGBT people, the United States is far from being the most tolerant country in the world.
According to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center, attitudes about homosexuality in society vary widely based on geography — but less by religion than you might expect. Pew asked more than 37,000 participants in 39 countries whether “homosexuality should be accepted or rejected by society,” and found widespread geographical differences in responses.

The Washington Post summarizes the findings:

The broadest acceptance was found in countries where religion is not central to life, such as Canada (80 percent), France (77 percent) and Australia (79 percent). Yet the poll also found high levels of tolerance toward gay people in some heavily Catholic countries, including Spain (86 percent), Italy (74 percent), Argentina (74 percent) and the Philippines (73 percent). In the United States, 60 percent of the public said gay people should be accepted in society.

It’s interesting to paint France as a country where religion isn’t a major influence, considering conservative Catholics have been at the forefront of an often violent movement protesting the country’s new marriage equality law. However, while Catholic countries seem to be erring on the side of acceptance, Muslim countries are not:

In contrast, there was widespread rejection of homosexuality in predominantly Muslim countries, as well as in Africa, Russia and parts of Asia. In most of the Middle East, including Egypt and Jordan, more than nine in 10 people said homosexuality should be rejected. That was also the case in most of Africa, including Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria…
Israel in particular illustrated the role religion plays in attitudes toward gay people. Six in 10 secular Jews in Israel told Pew that homosexuality should be accepted, more than twice the 26 percent of religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews who urged acceptance. Just 2 percent of Israeli Muslims agreed.

Pew reports that attitudes toward homosexuality have been generally stable over the last six years in most countries — except in the U.S., Canada, and South Korea, where acceptance has shot up by more than 10% each, and in France, Russia, and Turkey, where it’s dropped a few points.
Why the discrepancy between acceptance rates in countries with similarly huge religious influences? Gary Gates, a demographer with the Williams Institute at UCLA, told the Post it’s less about the legal standing of LGBT people in a certain country and more about the culture of a religion:

“There are cultures where religion is a very, very important factor, as a regular part of daily life,” he said. “In those countries, it’s harder to distinguish what’s religious and what’s culture. But in other countries, like Italy or Spain, the culture has always had a live-and-let-live dimension to it. Even with a very strong religious presence, you see that kind of attitude coming out.”

What I gather from this is that even the world’s most Catholic countries (hello, Spain and Italy!) are more tolerant of LGBT people than the United States, and that’s a little scary. According to these numbers, the U.S. touts itself as far more accepting — and more secular — than it actually is.
This article seems to say that legal equality for LGBT people doesn’t have a great deal of influence on acceptance of homosexuality, like in South Africa, where anti-gay discrimination is unconstitutional, yet 60% of the population doesn’t accept homosexuality. As the U.S. moves closer to ending DOMA and Prop 8 and abolishing discrimination in other ways, I can only hope we prove that trend wrong.