Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has expressed surprise at the results of a survey into social attitudes, saying he expected a greater change in the numbers who accepted homosexuality.

The results of the annual British Social Attitudes Survey were released today. They showed that 36 per cent of the 4,486 adults surveyed in 2008 thought homosexuality was “always” or “mostly” wrong, compared with 62 per cent in 1983.

Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “I was quite surprised – I expected it to be a much smaller proportion.

“The anti-gay third of the population has been quite static for several years. It wasn’t as diminished as I would have expected. It suggests a homophobic hardcore who are fairly resistant to reason and compassion.”

Labour MEP Michael Cashman, who is gay, told the BBC Today programme this morning that while he welcomed the progress made, he felt that people should not become “too comfortable” when intolerance still exists.

Tatchell agreed with this, saying: “I don’t think we should be rejoicing at this, although it is a big improvement since the mid 1980s. We’ve still got a long way to go to win over the third who remain homophobic.”

He added: “Until the advent of AIDS in the early 1980s, public opinion was becoming more accepting of homosexuality.

“The advent of AIDS and Margaret Thatcher’s moral crusades put that trend into reverse.

“It wasn’t until the late 1990s that public opinion began to tilt back in favour of accepting same-sex relationships. The shift in public attitudes is very welcome but it is still deeply disturbing that more than a third of the population believe homosexuality is mostly or always wrong.”

Tatchell also attacked last night’s vote in the House of Lords on faith exemptions from the Equality Bill.

Peers voted to continue allowing churches and faith organisations the right not to hire gay staff.

Tatchell said: “This vote is further proof that the majority of the Lords are backward, ignorant, reactionary and homophobic.

“It shows that we need a democratically-elected second chamber voted for by the public and accountable to the public.”