The Country That's Most Accepting of Homosexuality? Spain

A new Pew survey shows reveals where gays have made strides.
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(Reuters)

Last week, Nigeria's House of Representatives passed a bill that would criminalize gay marriage, same-sex relationships, and membership in gay rights groups. This week, the British House of Lords backed a bill that will allow gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, if it passes.

The two news events occurred just a few days apart, but they starkly represent the growing gap in views on homosexuality around the world.

Majorities in many countries in Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, North America, and Australia now think homosexuality should be accepted by society, but much of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa still clings to homophobia, according to a survey of 39 nations released by Pew on Tuesday.

There are several interesting insights here:

1) Views of homosexuality are most positive in Europe, especially Spain (88 percent there say it should be accepted by society), Germany (87 percent), and Czech Republic (80 percent). For the U.S., the number was 60 percent. Same-sex marriage is already legal in nine European nations, and France recently legalized it as well:

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The lowest numbers by far were in Africa -- only 1 percent of Nigerians felt homosexuality should be accepted.

2) In general, the more religious a country is, the more likely it is to reject homosexuality:

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Russia and China are the clear outliers: predominantly atheist, yet with just a few (16 percent and 21 percent of people, respectively) who say homosexuality should be accepted by society -- a sign that anti-gay prejudice there is cultural and historical, not ideological.

But there are countries that buck the trend in the other direction, as well:

Conversely, Brazilians and Filipinos are considerably more tolerant of homosexuality than their countries' relatively high levels of religiosity would suggest.

3) Though views on homosexuality haven't changed significantly since the last time the survey 

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was conducted in 2007, South Korea saw the largest increase in the number of people who thought it should be acceptable, jumping from 18 to 39 percent, or 21 percentage points, in just six years. (In the U.S., the acceptability of homosexuality went from being a minority viewpoint -- 49 percent -- to a majority one -- 60 percent -- in the same time period, representing the second-largest increase.)

Earlier this month, the AP reported that South Koreans appeared to be easing their opposition to gay marriage when a popular movie director there announced he was marrying his boyfriend.

"There was a time when we worried about our wishes to marry being revealed," Kim Jho Gwangsoo said. "But we ourselves feel now that times have changed."

Sadly, that isn't the case for gays in much of Africa and elsewhere.

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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