Americans more liberal than ever before on issues of sex and morality

Americans are increasingly liberal on moral issues, setting a new record on permissiveness on issues such as pornography, divorce and having children outside marriage.

A new Gallup poll on the issue shows that Americans on 10 of the 19 moral issues that Gallup measures, Americans are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date.

The percentages of US adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year.

At the same time, however, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.

Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs poll, carried out at the start of May each year, shows an ongoing leftward movement in perceptions of what is morally acceptable.

Americans are most likely to view birth control, divorce and sex between unmarried people as morally acceptable. At least two-thirds say each of these is OK.

However, in absolute terms they are least likely to believe suicide, polygamy, cloning humans and extramarital affairs are permissible; fewer than one in five say these practices are morally acceptable.

The public is most divided on abortion and medical testing on animals. Currently, 43 per cent of Americans say abortion is morally acceptable, and 49 per cent say it is morally wrong. Meanwhile, 51 per cent say medical testing on animals is OK, while 44 per cent disagree.

Of the 19 issues included in this year's poll, 13 show meaningful change in a liberal direction over time, and no issues at all show a move in a more conservative direction. 

One of the six issues showing virtually no change is birth control, still banned by the Catholic Church. Opinions on this issue have been highly permissive since Gallup first asked about it in 2012, ranging between 89 per cent and 91 per cent finding it acceptable. The other five issues showing no change since Gallup first measured them are abortion, buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur, extramarital affairs, cloning animals, and gambling.

Some of the largest changes in opinion reflect a transformation in Americans' views about the institution of marriage and intimate relationships. Since the early 2000s, the percentage saying that gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, sex between an unmarried man and woman and divorce are morally acceptable have increased by double digits.

Gallup has previously shown that Americans in all age groups have adopted more liberal views on these issues over time, but the changes have been proportionately greater among older Americans.

Gallup says: 'Americans have adopted more permissive views on matters of morality than they held at the beginning of the 21st century. Much of this change was apparent a few years ago, but opinions continue to shift in a slightly more left-leaning direction. Some of this change reflects increased social tolerance, while some is attributable to generational changes. It would appear that US opinions will continue on this path, as younger, more liberal generations replace older, more conservative ones in the US population.'