Majority of U.S. Catholics back gay rights in survey
In spite of, or perhaps because of, Roman Catholic church teachings condemning homosexuality, many lay Catholics in the United States be more accepting toward same-sex relationships than the general public, a new survey found.
“The big finding here is that American Catholics are at least 5 points more supportive than the general population across a range of gay and lesbian issues,” said Robert Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted telephone surveys of 3,000 Americans.
The survey’s conclusions go against the popular conception that Roman Catholics – the largest U.S. religious denomination at some one in four Americans – are conservative on social issues, said Stephen Schneck of The Catholic University of America, who was asked to comment on the survey by the researchers.
“Catholics appear to like civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage,” Schneck said, suggesting that while Catholics accept the rights of same-sex couples to be together there may be resistance to couples joined in what many see as a sacred rite.
Overall, the survey found 53 percent of Catholics supported the idea of same-sex marriage, while the general public is evenly divided on the issue. Fifty-six percent of Catholics did not believe sexual relations between two adults of the same gender constituted a sin, compared to 46 percent of the general population.
Sixty percent of Catholics favored adoption rights for same-sex couples, 49 percent think gays should be allowed to be ordained as clergy, and 73 percent believe they should have legal protections in the workplace – all higher percentages than found in the general population, PRRI said.
There was a powerful generation gap found in the survey, with Catholics under 35 much more liberal than those 65 and older. The influx of Hispanic Catholics into the U.S. church in recent years did not skew the results, as the young newcomers were divided between liberal and conservative views of homosexuality.
American Catholics also tended to be more liberal than evangelical and mainline Protestants, the researchers said.
The conclusions fit with a strong pattern of liberalism among Catholics that stands in opposition to the church hierarchy, said Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire asked by researchers to comment. There has been a gulf on social issues between church teachings and the American laity since the mid-1970s on subjects such as abortion, divorce without an annulment, premarital sex and artificial contraception.
“Catholics make up their own minds about these moral issues irrespective – or almost in spite of – what the bishops and official church teachings say,” Dillon said.
Catholics tend not to like or even may resent having politics in church, Dillon said. The survey found about one-quarter of church-going Catholics reported hearing about homosexuality in church – a much lower proportion than in Protestant churches. Two-thirds of the messages about homosexuality in church were negative.
Dillon said the poll is unlikely to sway the church hierarchy.
“I don’t think we should expect the Catholic bishops to stand back” on social issues, she said. “They’re not going to be distracted by any sort of polls. For the next few years, there will be a lot of activism … to keep at bay the movement of laws in favor of same-sex marriage.” (Photo by Mike Segar / Reuters 2008. Popemobile in front of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral)