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Are people born gay or lesbian, or do they become that way due to their upbringing or environment? Though opinions are changing, it turns that America is still deeply divided on this “nature vs. nurture” question.

Gallup polls taken over nearly four decades show a sharp rise in the view that people are born gay or lesbian, from about 12 percent in 1977 to 42 percent in 2014. The percentage of people saying that homosexuality is due to a person’s upbringing or environment has fallen, from more than 50 percent in the late 1970s to less than 40 percent today.

A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center showed Americans just as deeply divided, with 42 percent agreeing that being gay or lesbian is “just the way some choose to live,” and 41 percent saying that “people are born gay or lesbian.” Eight percent said homosexuality was a result of a person’s upbringing, while another 9 percent said they didn’t know.

These responses vary depending on a person’s education. Americans with a college or postgraduate degree are more likely to say that people are born gay or lesbian than those with less education.

As David Masci of Pew points out in a recent blog, the nature vs. nurture debate is still contested, even among scientists. The American Psychological Association says there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation, but that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

As acceptance of non-heterosexual orientations increases, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are becoming more visible across the U.S. A study by Gallup and the Williams Institute showed that the percentage of adults in the U.S. who identify as LGBT varies, from 1.7 percent in North Dakota to 10 percent in the District of Columbia.

The report finds a strong correlation between laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and the percentage of adults identifying as homosexual. According to the study, six of the 10 states with the lowest LGBT populations are among the most conservative states in the country.

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