The majority of Australians reject the view that homosexuality is immoral, and gay tolerance is likely to rise as progressive-thinking young people grow older, according to a new national study.

But anti-gay attitudes persist among one-third of the population -“ teenage boys, men rather than women, and even residents of parts of gay capital Sydney are more likely to hold homophobic views.

The Australia Institute study, Mapping Homophobia In Australia, was based on a Roy Morgan Research survey of nearly 25,000 people aged 14 and older.

It found two-thirds of Australians dismiss the idea that homosexuality is immoral, with most younger people far more likely than their elders to accept gay men and lesbians.

Fifty-three percent of Australians aged over 65 hold homophobic views, compared with one-quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Not all young Australians are so progressive.

Almost half of boys aged 14 to 17 were homophobic, the survey found, suggesting anti-gay views flourished at high school before declining once students left school.

Gender and geography are also key indicators of views on homosexuality.

Men are consistently more likely than women to think homosexuality is immoral, while city residents generally think more progressively than those in country areas.

An exception is southern Sydney, where 40 percent of residents opposed gay relationships. Attitudes are more progressive in the traditional queer heartland of inner Sydney, but the area is not Australia’s most gay-friendly.

That accolade belongs to inner-city Melbourne, the survey said. At the opposite end of the scale, homophobic views were most prevalent in western Tasmania and parts of rural Queensland.

And despite their church’s fierce opposition to gay priests and same-sex marriage, Catholics are less homophobic than other religious groups in Australia, the survey found.

Only 34 percent of Catholics think homosexuality is immoral, compared with the 68 percent of Baptists and 62 percent of evangelical Christians who hold that view.

Australia Institute director and Mapping Homophobia In Australia co-author Dr Clive Hamilton said this suggested the Catholic Church had less doctrinal authority over worshippers than some other churches.

The national survey provided some room more optimism, according to NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor David Scamell.

It’s encouraging that in the younger age group there seems to be quite a lot more acceptance and tolerance of lesbians and gay men -¦ than in the older age group, which would indicate that there is a shift towards a more tolerant society, Scamell told Sydney Star Observer.

But the high levels of homophobia seen among teenage boys were alarming and indicated a need for more effective education programs, Scamell said.

The Australia Institute findings follow a national survey released in May showing young same-sex attracted people continue to experience violence at school.

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