March 31, 2011 at 4:08 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Most U.S. Catholics back civil marriage for gays

Phil Attey, executive director of Catholics for Equality, said poll findings showing Catholics are more supportive of LGBT equality than the general public are 'heartening but not surprising.' (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Catholics are more supportive of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, than the general public and other Christians, according to a newly released study analyzing public opinion polls taken in 2010.

The study, conducted by the D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), found that nearly three-quarters of Catholics support either allowing same-sex couples to marry (43 percent) or allowing them to legalize their relationships through a civil union (31 percent).

Just 22 percent of Catholics indicated same-sex couples’ relationships should not be legally recognized, the study found.

“If marriage for gay couples is defined as a civil marriage ‘like you get at city hall,’ Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28 points, from 43 percent to 71 percent,” a 22-page report describing the study’s findings says.

“It may come as a surprise to many that rank and file Catholics are more supportive of rights for gays and lesbians than other Christians and the public,” said Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s chief executive officer. “But the best data available paints this consistent portrait across a range of issues, including same-sex marriage, workplace non-discrimination, open military service, and adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples.”

PRRI released its study report, Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: A Comprehensive Portrait from Recent Research,” on March 22, four days after the release of an ABC News-Washington Post poll showing similar views among U.S. Catholics.

The ABC News/Post poll, conducted March 10-13 by landline and cell phone among 1,005 adults — of all Americans, not just Catholics — found that an all-time high of 53 percent of those responding said it should be legal for gays and lesbians to marry.

The 53 percent support for legalized same-sex marriage represents an increase from 32 percent support for same-sex marriage shown in a similar poll conducted in 2004, the ABC News-Post pollsters said. Forty-four percent of respondents in the March 2011 ABC-Post poll said they oppose legalizing same-sex marriage compared to 62 percent saying they opposed such marriages in the 2004 poll.

The ABC News-Post poll showed that support for same-sex marriage among white Catholics increased by a dramatic 23 points between 2006 and 2011, from 40 percent to 63 percent.

Support for same-sex marriage among white Evangelical Protestants rose from 14 percent in 2006 to 25 percent this year, the poll shows. It shows that support for marriage equality among white non-Evangelical Protestants increased from 41 percent in 2006 to 57 percent in 2011.

The Public Religion Research Institute study is based on findings of six separate polls conducted between July and December of 2010. Three were conducted by PRRI and three were conducted by other survey research organizations.

The sample size for the six polls ranged from a little more than 1,000 to just over 3,000. According to the report, the Catholic “subsample” for the six polls ranged from just over 185 to a little over 350, resulting in a margin of error ranging from plus or minus 3 percent to plus or minus 7 percent, the report says.

The PRRI study report lists these additional findings:

• “Seventy-three percent of Catholics favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63 percent of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 6-in-10 Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.”

• “Compared to the general church-going public, Catholics are significantly less likely to hear about the issue of homosexuality from their clergy, but those who do are much more likely to hear negative messages.”

• “Compared to other religious groups, Catholics are significantly more likely to give their church poor marks for how it is handling the issue of homosexuality.” Thirty-nine percent of Catholics give their own church or parish a grade of either “A” or “B” on its handling of the issue of homosexuality.

• “Seven-in-ten Catholics say messages from America’s places of worship contribute a lot (33 percent) or a little (37 percent) to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.”

• “Catholics overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed. Nearly 7-in-ten (69 percent) of Catholics disagree that homosexual orientation can be changed; less than 1-in-4 (23 percent) believe that it can be changed.”

• “A majority of Catholics (56 percent) believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is not a sin. Among the general population, less than half (46 percent) believe it is not a sin.”

The PRRI study found that support for same-sex marriage among Catholics varied greatly depending on how frequently they attend church. A PRRI poll conducted in September 2010 found that just 38 percent of Catholics respondents who reported attending church weekly or more frequently support legalizing same-sex marriage.

The poll found that 43 percent of those saying they attend church “once or twice a month” support legalizing same-sex marriage. Among Catholics saying they attend church less often than once or twice a month, 59 percent support legalized same-sex marriage, the poll found.

Phil Attey, executive director of the D.C.-based group Catholics for Equality, said poll findings showing Catholics are more supportive of LGBT equality than the general public are “heartening but not surprising.”

“American Catholics consistently poll higher on progressive social justice issues – including the freedom to marry for all,” Attey said. “Our Catholic faith tradition is strongly based on social justice and our duty to take care of those who are unjustly oppressed and marginalized.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Good to hear. Cheers, Joe Mustich, CT Justice of the Peace, USA.

  • The most helpful result of the poll is this:

    “If marriage for gay couples is defined as a civil marriage ‘like you get at city hall,’ Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28 points, from 43 percent to 71 percent.”

    With such a large increase among Catholics, we’re bound to see similar increases for other groups. The phrase “like you get at city hall” is totally accurate. We should be adding it for clarity whenever we talk about this issue, and whenever it’s placed before the public.

  • Very interesting findings and helpful statistics. Although not Catholic myself, I’ve known many Catholics who would support these findings. Thanks!

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