February 7, 2012

Religion and Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage

In a victory for supporters of gay marriage, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 7 that a 2008 California referendum banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The appeals court, upholding an earlier district court decision, ruled that the voter-approved ban, known as Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. For now, same-sex couples who desire to marry in California may still not be able to do so, since the decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest polling on the issue of same-sex marriage by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (conducted in October 2011) finds that the public divides almost evenly: 46% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 44% are opposed. The public has gradually become more supportive of granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages over the past 15 years, with support increasing more steeply in recent years. (For a more detailed analysis of trends in attitudes about same-sex marriage, see “The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election.”)

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants express the greatest opposition to same-sex marriage, with 74% saying they oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. A large majority of black Protestants also oppose same-sex marriage (62%). The views of these groups have not changed since 2010. Compared with evangelicals and black Protestants, white mainline Protestants are more supportive of same-sex marriage, with 54% saying they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married.
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Among Catholics as a whole, supporters of same-sex marriage now outnumber opponents (52% vs. 37%). In 2010, Catholics were more evenly divided on the issue, with 46% favoring same-sex marriage and 42% expressing opposition. A majority of white Catholics (57%) now express support for same-sex marriage, while Hispanic Catholics continue to be closely divided (42% favor same-sex marriage, 42% are opposed).

Compared with other groups, the religiously unaffiliated express the highest levels of support for same sex-marriage. More than seven-in-ten of the religiously unaffiliated say they favor making same-sex marriage legal (72%), compared with 20% who oppose same-sex marriage.

This analysis is based on polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. More information on the latest data, including question wording and additional survey details, can be found at http://www.people-press.org/2011/11/03/the-generation-gap-and-the-2012-election-3/. Additional analysis of public opinion on same-sex marriage and homosexuality can be found at http://www.people-press.org/2012/02/07/growing-public-support-for-same-sex-marriage/. A comprehensive analysis of attitudes toward same-sex marriage, including an analysis of long-term trends and detailed comparisons of religious groups, can be found at http://www.pewforum.org/Gay-Marriage-and-Homosexuality/Support-For-Same-Sex-Marriage-Edges-Upward.aspx.

Photo Credits: David Paul Morris/Getty Images