Americans and morals — a changing picture, sort of

Americans think it’s OK to have gay or lesbian relations, but even more of them think it’s OK to have a baby outside of marriage. Polygamy, however, is reprehensible — one of the few opinions Americans likely have held constant for at least 130 years, I’m guessing.

62 percent of Americans believe the death penalty is moral — bad news for convicted murderer Jodi Arias.

62 percent of Americans believe the death penalty is moral — bad news for convicted murderer Jodi Arias.

And forget about having an extramarital affair. Only 6 percent, down 1 percent from 2001, think that’s OK. It’s hard to pin down exactly how many Americans are cheating on their spouses. Academic researcher Tom Smith has said there are few questions for which more worthless statistics exist. I’m guessing 6 percent may be a good indication of how many are doing so, at least without remorse.

These figures come from Gallup’s recently released poll on America’s view on morality. (Read it here.) They show some significant shifts over the past 12 years.

They also show people aren’t thinking clearly.

For instance, you could fill a good-sized room with the academic studies that show how bad it is for kids, generally speaking, to be born to, and raised by, an unwed mother. Those children tend to be low-income and have a host of other behavioral and academic problems.

Of course there are exceptions, and of course not every single mother sets out to be so, but it would be foolish to deliberately create a child out of wedlock and irresponsible to label it as morally acceptable. And yet, while only 45 percent approved of having a baby outside of marriage in 2001, 60 percent do today.

Gallup says this is an example of “attitudes following behavior,” since a growing percentage of children are being born outside of wedlock.

We like to think whatever we’re doing is morally correct. Guilt can be so unpleasant.

Interestingly, only 42 percent believe it’s morally acceptable to have an abortion, which stayed constant over the 12-year span.

Polygamy’s 14 percent approval rating means those practitioners who are trying to gain traction from the growing support for gay marriage have a long way to go. Apparently, there are limits to marriage equality, at least for now.

Our approval of the death penalty remains virtually unchanged at 62 percent, which is just a little higher than our acceptability of animal clothing made from fur. The concept of death equality hasn’t caught on yet, either, apparently — at least not beyond our own species.

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About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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