Parsing Pew: Did gay-marriage foes' row just get tougher to hoe?

Yesterday Pew Research released the results of a new survey of public attitudes on the place of religion in political life. The major finding, as you may have seen, is that nearly three-quarters of Americans now say the influence of religion is waning. That figure is up more than twenty points--from 51 percent to 71--since 2001, when Pew first began measuring the trend. At the same time, growing numbers of Americans want religion to play a more prominant role in politics. In advance of the 2010 midterm elections, 43 percent of Americans said houses of worship should express their view on social and political issies--today 49 percent agree. A growing minority of Americans (32 percent) even said churches should endorse political candidates. Naturally, those who hold such views tend to believe society benefits from religion; they lean more Republican than Democratic.

But that's not the only interesting material in the survey. Pew's research turned up a bunch of interesting findings related to same-sex marriage. Some of that data may surprise you, as it may prove frustrating to leading opponents of gay marriage.

The new survey shows a slight drop in support for gay marriage: 49 percent of Americans support it--that's down five points from February's survey. That may mean nothing. (Just as the finding that a five-point rise in the percentage of Americans who believe homosexuality is sinful may hold little meaning.) The year-over-year trend in support of gay marriage remains clear.

Less clear, however, is how the GOP will negotiate its positions on gay marriage, given how many self-identified Republicans are unhappy with the way their party handles that issue.

Pew Research asked Republican respondents how well the GOP was representing their own views. When it comes to gay marriage, just 34 percent of Republicans agree that the GOP is doing a good job. Of the 53 percent who think the Republican Party is doing a bad job, nearly one-third say it's because the party is too conservative on the issue. Just 22 percent say it's because the GOP is too liberal.

While most white Evangelicals are unhappy with the GOP's handling of gay marriage--no surprise there--among non-Evangelical Republicans, more say the party is too conservative than say it's too liberal.

What about Catholics? On same-sex marriage, 67 percent of Democrats say their party is well representing their views. And of the 22 percent who disagree with the Democrats' approach, more than half say it's because the party is too liberal. (On immigration, just half of Catholic Democrats are on board with the party's position, more than a quarter because it's too conservative.)

Just 44 percent of all Catholics believe "homosexual behavior" is a sin, while 49 percent say it's not. For white Catholics, those numbers are just about reversed, but not for Hispanic Catholics. Fifty-six percent say homosexual behavior is not a sin--just 38 percent say it is.

Pew found similar results when it asked Catholics about same-sex marriage. Fifty-two percent of all Catholics support gay marriage, while 35 percent oppose it. Among whites, just 32 percent oppose gay marriage, while half support it. Hispanic Catholics favor same-sex marriage by 55 percent--29 percent are against it. (That confirms the findings of another survey released in February.)

Should businesses be allowed to refuse wedding-related services to gay couples for religious reasons? Fifty-seven percent of Catholics say yes--53 percent of white Catholics agree, as do 64 percent of Hispanic Catholics (you know, the future of the Catholic Church in the United States).

Of course, those aren't overwhelming numbers, and I'm not saying the Republican Party is about to suffer a mutiny on the issue of gay marriage, but perhaps leaders of the anti-gay-marriage movement might consider what this data means for the way the people they're trying to persuade receive their message.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Religion
Culture
Collections