On 6 October 2010, the Pew Research Center released a new report on the amount of support for “Gay Marriage” in the United States. Data presented include current (Collected July21-August 5 2010) statistics and comparisons back to 1996 for some characteristics. This post will speak about support or opposition among religious categories in the nation. Looking at the nation as a whole, 42% of Americans support gay marriage and 48% oppose gay marriage. Support for same-sex marriage rose from 27% in 1996 to the current 42%. and opposition fell from 65% in 1994 to the current 48%. Greater detail on the population as a whole will be discussed in a later post. (NOTE: The only correction is in the first paragraph. The original data reported for the nation as a whole was for support (60%) / opposition (30%) for gays serving in the military. The data for "gay marriage" above is now correct)
Religion and Same-Sex Marriage
I will present data on All Protestants, including three sub categories: White Evangelicals, White Mainline, and Black Protestants. There are Data for Catholics, including: White Catholics and Hispanics. Some information on religious Jews is presented. The final category includes All the Unaffiliated. The data for all religious categories are based on self-identification of “member” status.
When data are available for frequency of attendance (Attend Weekly or Attend Less [than weekly]) they are presented. Frequency of attendance is just about the best predictor of religious beliefs, behavior and position on many issues.
ALL Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and the Unaffiliated.
+ Among all Protestants, 31% support gay marriage, an increase of 4% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Catholics, 46% support gay marriage, an increase of 4% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Jews, 75% support gay marriage, an increase of 1% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Unaffiliated, 62% support gay marriage, a decrease of 1% over 2008-08.
It is clear that the greatest support for gay marriage is by the Jews and the Unaffiliated. What is more interesting in light of the Catholic hierarchy’s very strong opposition to same-sex marriage is that 46% of the Catholic people support gay marriage and this is 15% higher than among Protestants. Of course when we look within each category we will find great variation. Finally, the greatest growth over the past year in support for gay marriage is among Catholics and Protestants, at 4% for each.
The variation within Protestants is well indicated by the fact that that three-quarters (74%) of White Evangelicals oppose gay marriage as well as 62% of the members of predominantly Black Protestant churches. Half (49%) of Mainline Protestants support gay marriage. This shows a real chasm between types of Protestants.
The data on Catholics are presented for White Catholics and Hispanic Catholics, who are thought to be more “conservative” or “traditional.” The gap between White (49%) and Hispanic (42%) support for gay marriage is much smaller than within Protestantism. More White Catholics than Hispanic Catholics support same-sex marriage, by 9 percentage points. It is quite noteworthy that nearly half of both Mainline Protestants (49%) and White Catholics (49%) support gay marriage. Among the “traditional” Christian groups, then, White Catholics and Mainline Protestants are the most supportive same-sex marriage.
Jews and the Unaffiliated.
Jews are more supportive of gay marriage than any other religious group. In fact, 76% of religious Jews support, and only 18% oppose, marriage for Gays. The data for Jews does not permit any further analysis.
The Unaffiliated may or may not be “religious” or “spiritual” but none of them claim membership in one of the “standard” religious groups like Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc. Among all the unaffiliated, 62% support gay marriage. Looking only at those who say they are agnostic or atheistic, 80% support gay marriage. Based on “religious beliefs” this category is more supportive of gay marriage than any other category or sub-category studied here. Among those who say they are “Nothing Particular,” (some of whom are generically Christian without claiming membership in a particular church or denomination) support gay marriage (57%).
In the sociological literature “church attendance” at Sunday worship and other services (E.g. Wednesday Prayer Services, Daily Mass) is considered one of the best predictors of religious beliefs, values, norms and of behavior itself (E.g. support or opposition to abortion). Many conservative Christians define “true Christians” by their attendance or not at religious services. For example there is debate in the Roman Catholic Church over who are “good Catholics” or “practicing Catholics.” More conservative Catholics tend to believe that “good” Catholics are only those who go to Mass every Sunday, strictly follow all the teachings of the Pope, and support the hierarchy’s positions on “hot-button” issues like birth control, abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage.
These data are presented only as “Church attendance” and do not include references to beliefs or other behaviors. For the nation as a whole:
24% of those who attend church one a week or more frequently support gay marriage. (Opposed: 68%).
49% of those who attend church “monthly to yearly” support gay marriage. (Opposed: 40%).
59% of those who “seldom or never” attend church services support gay marriage. (Opposed: 29%).
Denominational Church Attendance,
When the sample sizes allow it, data are presented for the larger religious categories, including:
+ White Evangelicals Weekly+ 14% support. Less often 31% support (Opposed: 81% and 61%).
+ White Mainliners Weekly+ 35% support. Less often 53% support (Opposed: 57% and 33%).
+ Black Protestants Weekly+ 22% support. Less often 37% support (Opposed: 69% and 53%).
+ White Catholics Weekly+ 34% support. Less often 59% support (Opposed: 55% and 31%).
It is clear that over one-third of Mainline Protestants (35%) and Catholics (34%), who regularly attend church the most, support gay marriage in 2010. In each religious category, those who attend church the most frequently are less supportive of gay marriage than those who attend less frequently. In rank ordering opposition to gay marriage, Evangelicals (81%) are most likely to be in opposition and Roman Catholics (55%) are least likely to oppose gay marriage whether or not they are regular attenders. It is clear that the majority of those who attend church are significantly more opposed to gay marriage than is the general population (48%). But to me it is important to note that as many churches as do, support gay marriage, from 14% for Evangelicals to 59% among Catholics (even in light of the persistent opposition to gay marriage from the Pope, Vatican Congregations, national hierarchies and individual bishops).
Generational support for gay marriage.
Age is an important factor in explaining attitude toward same-sex marriage. Between 1996 and 2010, if we look at the entire US population aged 18 and over, we can note that support for gay marriage has increased for each generation as shown below:
Millennials: born 1981 -
51% support to 53% support gay marriage.
Gen-Xers: born 1965-1980
40% to 48% support gay marriage.
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
26% to 38% support gay marriage.
Silent Generation: 1928-1945
20% to 29% support gay marriage.
Greatest Generation: Born before 1928
16% to 15% support gay marriage.
Every generation (except the “Greatest Generation”) has become more supportive of gay marriage. For each generation born between 1928 and 1980, the increase in support for same-sex marriage has been approximately ten percentage points. Those born before 1928, and who are well into their 80s, are the least supportive of gay marriage. Of greater interest are the Millennials. Between 2003 (when they began to turn 18) and 2010 their support for gay marriage increased by “just 2%”, in a relatively short time span; it will be very interesting to see what the percentage change will be in the next 10-15 years.
Religious “Younger Generations” and Support for Gay Marriage.
In the general population, among those 18-29 we find over half (53%) support gay marriage in 2010. This is a one percent increase over 2008-2009. Among those 30-49, not quite half (46%) support gay marriage (This is an astounding 7% increase in one year). Because of sample sizes the break down of age categories makes it impossible to speak of these two categories separately. Thus, the data by religious categories will be presented from the most accepting of gay marriage to the least accepting for those 18-49 years old:
66% of the unaffiliated favor gay marriage. This is 10 points higher than those 50+
58% of Catholics favor gay marriage. This is 19 points higher than those 50+
54% of Mainliners favor gay marriage. This is 10 points higher than those 50+
26% of Evangelicals favor gay marriage. This is 11 points higher than those 50+
Clearly the younger generations of the Unaffiliated are the most in favor of gay marriage. Noticeably well over one-half of Catholics (58%) and Mainline Protestants (54%) support gay marriage. On the other hand only about one-quarter (26%) of Evangelicals support same-sex marriages. Among all groups, except Catholics, the increase in acceptance in one year was about 10%. The increased acceptance of gay marriage by Catholics over a one ear period was almost double (19%) that of the other three categories. Understanding those in the 18-29 age group, and those soon to became 18, is critical. The questions is: Which religious groups actually are meeting the needs of these young persons? How are they doing it? What are the messages and programs that meet young people in terms of their own concrete lives?
A Summary and an interpretation, of Sorts.
The descriptive statistics presented here suggest a number of questions to ponder.
To what extent do religious groups face the actual lived reality of gay people in their congregations / parishes, local communities and the nation? It seems especially, that Black Protestants, Evangelicals, and Catholic leaders have great difficulty understanding the real lives of their LGBT adherents.
White Evangelicals have yet to see an extreme gap between the leadership and their people regarding gay marriage. But the gap between what is officially taught by Catholic leaders and the attitudes of the bulk of Catholics is quite severe. As mentioned, even one-third of “good Catholics” who attend Mass weekly or more often support gay marriage. A question is, can this gap be reduced? Catholic leaders often say, “Catholic doctrine and moral issues are not determined by ‘opinion polls’.” I agree with this statement. But I argue that public opinion polls do tell us “where the people are” and that where the people are must be taken into account as one of the sources which help determine the development and application of moral decision making in concrete situations.
How do each of the different religious groups meet the immediate needs of LGBT persons? How much compassion is shown to gay persons in general and where are programs or ministries at the congregation or parish level that receive LGBT persons with acceptance and love for the human beings they are?
Whether or not homosexual behavior is perceived as due to “secularism,” the “Devil” or as a grace from God, religious groups must come to understand that gays are human beings born gay and that an attitude of tolerance and acceptance is growing over the years. Why do so many churches, synagogues and other religious institutions neglect to speak about and to gays with compassion? Why do they only preach how homosexuality is evil and/or homosexual behaviors or gay marriage are evil, rather than face up to the reality that gays and gay behavior is human and exists? Can’t religious groups at least listen, really listen to LGBT persons and admit dialogue about gay life in the context of justice and love?
How can and will religious institutions deal with the youth of today, especially those 15 or 16 to 20 or 22, who increasingly take for granted that there simply are gay people, that gay people are just like themselves except in sexual orientation and sexual behavior, that many of their good friends are gay, and they just do not understand why gays are not left alone to become who they are meant to be.
On the other hand, how can and will religious institutions deal with those (and not just teenagers) who are harassed, bullied, subject to violence and even death from ignorant, misguided or fearful individuals who attack LGBT persons? And if religious leaders could admit and accept the reality of GLBT life, they might do better forming their own members to be more accepting of gays rather let them, perhaps, fall into the hatred of a Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church.
Gay marriage is but one facet of how we live together with each other in justice, peace and love. But the data from this study indicate at least one thing, support for gay marriage is increasing and neither “this issue” nor other “gay-related issues” are going to just “go away.”
See this significant article: Gay Bullying and Death: Are Believers the Problem of the Solution?
See also: What is a Catholic Response to Gay Suicide?
See also: Are We Complicit?
I encourage any one who wishes to leave a comment, pro or con, or questions!!!!