06 June, 2010

Men and Catholics More Accepting of Gay/Lesbian Relationships

On May 25th the New York Times released a report on the moral acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations. Here are a few interesting results:

  1. For the first time in Gallop Polling history a very slight majority (52%) of adult (18+ years old) Americans  support the moral acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations.
  2. For the first time, the percentage of men (53%) who accept the idea that homosexual relations are moral is larger than the percentage of women (51%) who accept  the idea that homosexual relations are moral.
  3. The percentage of the American population who accept gay/lesbian relations acceptable varies in different segments of the population. Most startling here is the finding that the percentage increase in support of the acceptability of homosexual relations among Catholics (+16%) is second only to that among younger men (18-49).
I will make only a few comments here.  Sixty-two percent of American Catholic adults find homosexual relations acceptable. This is higher than the Protestant (42%) rate of acceptance. In fact, the Protestant acceptance rate in 2010 (42%) is actually lower than Catholic rate in 2006 (46%).

The willingness to accept Gay relations as morally okay is noticeably less for Protestants (42%)  and Catholics (62%) than for Non-Christians (84%) and those claiming no religion at all (85%).

But the real startling news is the amount of change between 2006 and 2010. There was a 16%  change (from 46% to 62% ) among Catholics. This 16% increase is second only to the change (+20%) for men 18-49 years old.

One might create a stereotyped summary with some truth as to who supports the idea that Gay relations are acceptable. The "typical" supporter might just well be: A younger male who is a Catholic or not Christian. He is most likely an Independent or Democrat in terms of political party affiliation and  moderate  or liberal in political philosophy. Those among whom the change toward acceptance has been greatest are: younger men (+20%), Catholics (16%), political moderates (+14%), and Independent voters (+11%). Thus, movement in the direction of greater acceptance of homosexual relations as moral, is coming from those in the middle not from either extreme.

One question rises immediately. Why are Catholics as supportive as they are  of the view that homosexual relations are morally acceptable? There are many possible answers. I do do not know which answer, which combination of answers, or which additional answers might be reasonable.

If one takes into account only those Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday, the support for the moral acceptability Gay/Lesbian relations would be significantly lower. However, the mix of those who go to Mass every Sunday and those who go less often has been the same during each year. That Catholics are generally less faithful to the Gospel and to the "Church," is an ideological statement that will not stand up to the evidence. True, the Catholic Church has a loss rate higher than any other major Christian in the U.S. but these are not primarily "liberal / progressive" members.

There is another intriguing possibility. The Catholic worldview has some essential characteristics. It believes that the spiritual is mediated to us through persons and natural elements. It also has a both-and view of things. Even when Catholics see sin like "sexual sins" there is an ability to see them as arising out of human weakness. Since Vatican II there has been an emphasis on a personal-relational emphasis in moral theology. Even when "ordinary" Catholics do not read contemporary theology, they pick up current ideas in the Church, relate them to the findings of science and their gut feelings about what is "right."

It seems incumbent upon the Magisterium  to squarely face and openly listen to contemporary moral theologians and what the experience of real people indicates about the fundamentals of human sexuality.

Comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcomed.


    1. I do not know what to make of this. The American RC bishops are as rabid about opposing gay marriage as ever. Your last statement inviting the hierarchy to get in touch with real people and the real world would be welcome. Perhaps it's all the screaming of the bishops that is beginning to make people think for themselves. None the less, this is good news.

    2. Thank you for your comment.
      Most of the data collected in recent years shows Catholics more tolerant or accepting of Gays and Lesbians than everyone except the "Unaffiliated;" in spite of what one would ever expect from hearing the Vatican and U.S. Bishops preach.

      The institutional Church has at best always been ambivalent about all sexuality. The real linchpin of all official teaching is the emphasis on the centrality of heterosexual procreative marital intercourse. Everything else is built up from or in defense of that reality in an act centered sexual ethic.

      Most Catholics couldn't buy those arguments with regard to birth control and masturbation. Increasing numbers today see that the official teachings about homosexuality just don't ring true to their moral compass.

      I'm reading a LOT of material on contemporary moral theology related to sexual ethics. I think these men and, especially, feminist theologians are composing what will become the ethic of the Church in the future.

      But I believe the Catholic people will begin living this new ethic well before revisionist theologians articulate it or the Church promulgates it. We have been the pioneers, the 18-29 generation already live in a new and different world where being gay is simply there. In fact more and more young men are identifying themselves as "mostly straight." This indicates a new understanding of gender and sex.

      If the Church fails to grapple with these issues openly, accepting the real experience of real people, and the findings of the natural and social sciences, the whole issue of homosexuality and "gay sex" will be dealt with outside of the "Church" but within the People of god.

    3. Hey-cool theme I like it..Noel is suppose to be designing me a new one soon. I can never settle on one...OCD I guess...lol


    Comments most welcome.