Americans Growing More Permissive

By Alex Chediak Published on June 9, 2018

Americans are becoming more permissive on moral issues like smoking pot, same sex relations, divorce, pornography, even polygamy. That’s according to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, which was conducted May 1-10 and released this week. The trends are the interesting part.

Smoking Pot

In 2018, support for smoking pot was at 65 percent. That’s really high (no pun intended) when you consider that less than half the country was supportive less than a decade ago. It’s not a perfect comparison, because the question was asked a bit differently in previous Gallup surveys (morally acceptable vs. should be made legal). Still, there seems to be a correlation between the legalization of recreational pot and people finding its usage to be morally acceptable.

Is it just young people? No. Even 58 percent of those 55 and older think smoking pot is morally acceptable. It’s higher (77%) for younger adults (18-34). But the split is even greater when you look at religiosity. Among those who attend church every week, only 41 percent find pot usage to be okay. Among those who seldom or never go to church, it’s 75 percent. Political ideology makes a big difference, too. Among conservatives, support is at 47 percent. Among liberals, 81 percent.

Polygamy support now stands at 19 percent. That’s up from 7 percent in 2010.

Same Sex Relations

Two-thirds of respondents (67%) said that gay or lesbian relationships are morally acceptable. I wish Gallup had broken this question down by religiosity and political ideology, but apparently they didn’t. Support is up from 40 percent in 2001. It was 48 percent in 2008, when Obama first ran for President. And 54 percent in 2012 when Obama was reelected — having “evolved” on this issue, like his constituents.

Sexual Ethics

Support for divorce has risen from 59 percent in 2001 to 76 percent today. Support for having a child outside of marriage has risen from 45 percent in 2002 to 65 percent today.

Pornography is now considered morally acceptable by 43 percent of adults — up from 30 percent in 2011. That’s a quick increase and one that does not bode well, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement. I would hope a renewed interest in the dignity of women would include a consideration that porn cheapens and degrades sex, typically through the objectification of women.

Even more bizarre: Polygamy support now stands at 19 percent. That’s up from 7 percent in 2010. In fact, from 2003 to 2010 there was no increase in support for polygamy. But since 2010, it’s shot up big time. Think of five random people in a grocery store. One of them thinks it’s okay for a man or woman to have more than one spouse.

A glimmer of hope: Infidelity is still very unpopular — meaning that concepts like “open marriages” and “polyamory” are not gaining traction.

Many would say that support for polygamy is a logical extension of the Supreme Court’s 2014 Obergefell ruling. We’ve also seen it popularized — or rather, glamorized — on television. In practice, though, polygamy is horrific for women and children.

Sex between teenagers is another issue on which support is still in the minority, but rising rapidly. In 2013, almost one in three (32%) thought sex between teenagers was morally acceptable. Just 5 years later it’s up to 42 percent.

A glimmer of hope: Infidelity is still very unpopular — meaning that concepts like “open marriages” and “polyamory” are not gaining traction. Only one in ten (10%) think it’s morally acceptable for a married man and woman to have an affair. That’s really low when you consider that 76 percent say it’s okay to divorce, 69 percent are okay with sex between two unmarried adults, and 19 percent are okay with having a second spouse.


Support for doctor-assisted suicide is at 54 percent. That’s high, but a small increase from 49 percent support in 2003. This one has gone up and down over the years. But support for suicide in general has been rising more steadily and rapidly. In 2003, 14 percent thought suicide was morally acceptable. Today, 20 percent say it is.

Don’t think of that as a 6 percent increase. Think of it as an almost 50 percent increase, because 20 percent is almost 50 percent greater than 14 percent. It’s a significant increase, but a necessary inference from a growing materialistic mindset. If all we are is blobs of flesh, come up from the primordial soup by a meaningless, naturalistic process, taking one’s life is just another act of personal autonomy.

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Our Response

Christians have a worldview that promotes human flourishing. We recognize that every person is made in the image of God. Therefore every person has dignity and worth. The God who made us knows how our bodies and minds work best. Recreational drug usage is destructive to the body and the mind. Sexual intimacy is meant to be an expression of lifelong commitment between a husband and wife.

Divorce, pornography, polygamy — these things are destructive to individuals, families and society as a whole. As the gospel is clearly taught in churches throughout the country, may God be pleased to awaken more people to a saving relationship with Him and to the goodness of a biblically ordered life.

Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of  Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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