A good place to be gay?

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 11, 2006

The Netherlands is rightly regarded as one of the most gay-friendly countries. But in recent years there has been a growing concern about increased intolerance towards gays. The Dutch Parliament has therefore asked the “Social and Cultural Planning Office”:http://www.scp.nl/english/ to conduct a study on the acceptance of gays in this country, which was published last Friday. Is the Netherlands really a good place to be gay?
The “258-pages long report”:http://www.scp.nl/publicaties/boeken/9037702570.shtml (unfortunately available in Dutch only) analyses all relevant data from existing surveys. New data were collected to fill in the gaps, and qualitative data were collected for particular sectors, such as the military. I find most of the results not very surprising, but nevertheless they are interesting. The only international data are from around 2000, and show that the Dutch residents are the least likely from all Europeans and North Americans to dislike having gay neighbours or believing that homosexuality can never be justified (though the results for the Scandinavian countries are only slightly higher).
89% of the Dutch population holds that gay people should be able to lead the life they want to live. Women, the higher educated and non-religious people are less negative towards gays than men, the lower educated, and religious people, with religion being the most important factor. Among the population who reports that religion plays a very important role in their daily lives, 79% has a negative attitude towards gays; among the non-religious the figure is 9%. The lowest incidence of negative attitudes can be found among high-skilled non-religious women: ‘only’ 2% if them have a negative attitude towards gays. Of course, we are only looking at explicit and self-reported negative attitudes; it is far from unlikely that the number for the implicite (‘non-conscious’ if you like) negative attitudes are higher.
Of the residents of this country, 22% are against the legal right for gays to marry (this law passed in 2001); among Turks and Moroccans (the two largest immigrant groups) these figures are 55% and 48% respectively. However, these latter figures are probably underestimates as about 7% of Turks and Moroccans refused to respond, and the group of non-respondents has all characteristics of the group who strongly disapproves of homosexuality, making it likely that the non-respondents are disapproving too but prefer not to answer the question.
While one could interpret the figures in this report as a rather broad acceptance of gays, this acceptance comes with certain conditions. For example, 42% of the respondents finds it offensive if gay men are kissing in a public space. For lesbians the figure is somewhat lower at 31%, and for straight couples it stands at 8%.
Obviously, there are many more results in this long report — I’ve only highlighted a few. As the researchers rightly say, this report is a milestone, since it is the first time that a comprehensive study of the acceptance of homosexuality has been conducted in this country. One would hope that this kind of study would be conducted on a regular basis, which would make intertemporal comparisons possible, and, even better, as part of an international research project which would make the results also comparible across countries. The current study shows that in the Netherlands gays are still not entirely treated with the same respect as straight people, even though for many abroad this country surely looks like a paradise for gays.



Andrew Edwards 09.11.06 at 6:05 pm

Good results overall, I think.

78% support for gay marriage beats almost anywhere else, although I think Canada’s veering into that terriroty pretty fast. Friends and family members of mine who used to oppose gay marriage are now nearly all at the very least resigned to it. In general they seem to be seeing that the worst predictions were totally false, and that gay marriage is massively harmless.

I suspect that once gay marriage gets legalized in a country, and the sky fails to fall, opinon turns pretty fast.


Andrew Edwards 09.11.06 at 6:11 pm

Following up with some data – there appears to have been a substantial and rapid bump in support for gay marriage since it has been legalized (47% in 2002, 54% in 2005, 59% in 2006).


“In 2002, an EKOS Research poll showed that if there was a national referendum on the issue, either side could win: 47% would vote to oppose same-sex marriage, while 45% would vote in favour.

The most recent public opinion poll on same-sex marriages became available on June 19th, 2006. The poll, conducted by Environics Research, showed that support for the law increased, as Canadians accept gay marriage by a 59-33 majority.

An Environics poll taken in January of 2005, showed the majority favoured the law, but by a tighter margin: 54-43.

An Environics poll taken in January, 2006, showed a margin of 66-30 against reopening the debate. Thus, although opposition to reopening the debate fell by 4 points, support for raising it again fell by 3. Finally, only a slim majority of conservative voters felt the issue should be reopened. Strong opponents have fallen from 46% per cent to 35%.

Another poll on same-sex marriage was released one week earlier. This poll, conducted by Leger Marketing, was only conducted within the provice of Ontario. Out of 1,000 respondents, 49% supported same-sex marriage, and 40% were opposed. 11% provided tacit support by volunteering an “it’s none of my business/i don’t care” response, thus bringing support for gay marriage up to 60% in the province.”


leederick 09.11.06 at 6:50 pm

I don’t speak Dutch, so I’m commenting from a position of almost total ignorance.

Is there a simple relationship between tolerance/intolerance and ‘negative’ attitudes towards gays, ‘dislike having gay neighbours’, ‘believing that homosexuality can never be justified’, finding gay people kissing ‘offensive’ and so on? Isn’t it perfectly possible for you be a good tolerant liberal and hold all the views above?

I suppose there’s a broader issue around exactly how much we can ask of people. I remember reading a comment from someone (I forget who) about how there are two forms of multiculturalism. One says different ways of life are equally valid, so we should be tolerant of others ways of life as they have equal value to our own. The other says people who have different ways of life are deeply misguided, but we should let them get on with it out of a spirit of benevolent superiority. Should we try to get people to sign up to the first view rather than the second?


tina5 09.11.06 at 8:20 pm

Well, if Netherlands is a place where gays can really feel accepted then be it. But in my own opinion, gays can be anywhere they want to be. Provided that they are happy and at home within themselves.


ingrid 09.12.06 at 1:26 am

Andrew, thanks for this info on Canada – interesting to see the changes over time.

Leederick, you raise an important question. If all people would accept gays and treat them genuinly as equals, that would be a milestone. But I wonder whether this would still lead to implicit behaviour (e.g. how you talk to people, whether you avoid them, etc.) that would send the message to gay people that they are not treated with full respect. Hence I would advocate reaching the ‘good liberal tolerance limit’ as a minimum, but hoping for a society where people also genuinly do accept gays as just another human being, without conveying them in subtle ways that they are ‘different’, e.g. by making ‘jokes’.


bad Jim 09.12.06 at 3:17 am

I live in Laguna Beach, where gays are so commonplace that kissing, or pats on the butt, are unremarkable. They may scandalize some of the tourists, but they don’t keep enough of them away. (After Labor Day the town is ours again!)

The occasional rainbow flag tends to enforce tolerance, and the townspeople have, to a considerable degree, adopted the cosmopolitan liberalism this implies. Most of our mommies still drive SUV’s to pick up their kids from middle school – we’re a very conventional, very affluent community in most respects – but the polyglot visitors go unconfronted, the turbanned Sikh and the lady in the hijab alike stroll the boardwalk unafraid.

If a place is safe for gays, it’s probably safe for anyone.


jasper emmering 09.12.06 at 8:49 am

Seems to me that you can only tolerate stuff you disapprove off (but feel you have no business or right to do anything about).

If you don’t disapprove, how can you even be intolerant?


eudoxis 09.12.06 at 9:28 am

89% of the Dutch population holds that gay people should be able to lead the life they want to live.

At the same time, 34% strongly disagree that same sex couples should have the same adoption rights as hetero couples. The questions about adoption/children and gay teachers for children of hetero couples get much closer to the real feelings of acceptance for homosexuals.


ingrid robeyns 09.12.06 at 11:17 am

Eudoxis: thanks. I should have added these figures to my post. Reading the 34% statistic just below the 89% statistic highlights an inconsistency in the responses: if “being able to lead the life they want” includes “being able to adopt children”, then it is probably closer to the truth to say that at best 67% percent of the Dutch population holds that gay people should be able to lead the life they want to live.

However, I also think that the case of adopting is more complex than e.g. the disapproval that some people feel in seeing a gay couple kiss. The reason is that some people (probably those 34% and possibly more) think that it is in the best interest of children to be raised by a different-sex couple (as far as I know, there is no scientific evidence for this view). Another issues that may be relevant here is that some countries in the global South refuse to cooperate in international adoptions with countries that allow adoptions by gay couples.


kim 09.12.06 at 12:58 pm

#6: “If a place is safe for gays, it’s probably safe for anyone.”

Well, except atheists.


bad Jim 09.13.06 at 3:00 am

No matter where you go, atheists don’t have a prayer.


tribald ozgevir 09.13.06 at 5:25 am

The tension between tolerance and righteousness is a primary one in Dutch political culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it argued that the rapidity of Dutch acceptance of homosexuality could be partially attributed to the tolerance of multiple religious communities enshrined in the “pillar” model, where tolerance involved a great degree of self-segregation and private condescension – let the (Catholics, Reformed, Socialists) do what they want in their neighborhoods so long as they don’t do it in ours. The gay bid for public acceptance was taking place just as the pillar model was collapsing in the cultural revolution of the 70s and 80s, but that same cultural revolution enshrined some of the same kinds of segregation/tolerance policies, notably the “gedogen” marijuana coffee shop system. The classic Dutch model of preserving social peace by turning oppositional social groups into stakeholders doesn’t necessarily imply that the stakeholders have to like one another.

Against this model of tolerance one has the recurrent Calvinist aspiration to purity and righteousness, the boast (always cloaked in mock-modest irony) that the Netherlands is a land whose prosperity is Heaven’s reward for its moral excellence. In its modern version, health statistics are put forward: the fewest teen pregnancies, the lowest childhood mortality, the tallest people, the most densely populated country in the world – or pure moral claims: we are the most tolerant toward gays.

These boasts are often true; it’s a wonderful country. But as reformers from the Counter-remonstrants on have found, it is dangerous to push one’s luck in terms of universal acceptance of one’s own vision of moral truth. It seems unwise to attempt to actively force a queer-friendly ideology on that minority of Dutch citizens who still don’t feel exactly the same towards gays as they do towards straights. It’s a good idea to know when you’ve won.


Shelby 09.13.06 at 12:40 pm

Clayton Cramer, call your office….


beloml 09.13.06 at 1:44 pm

It’ll be interesting to see how much longer this holds true, given news like this:


jasper emmering 09.14.06 at 4:29 am

beloml –

With 5.8% of the Dutch population Muslim, I’d guess that support for the introduction of sharia law stands at less than 1%.

Minister Donner is quite right that it is wrong to preventively ban political parties who aim to introduce sharia law by democratic means. He is also quite right that there is no need for non-Muslims to do so. With all the constitutional changes involved, such a Muslim fundamentalist party would need 66% of the vote.

He’s not the silly one in this debate.

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