Is it possible that religious, and specifically Catholic, nations are more LGBT-friendly than others? Data from the Pew Research Center’s Global Views on Morality survey seems to suggest so, but questions have been raised about just what that means in practice or if it is even true.
The poll released in April shows a strong correlation between nations that are predominantly Catholic and those which view homosexuality as morally acceptable or not a moral issue altogether. Eight of ten nations whose respondents affirmed homosexuality are either majority Catholic or have large Catholic populations, including the Czech Republic and Spain in the number one and two slots. Nations like France, Italy, and Poland led among nations whose respondents largely view the issue amorally. The poll confirms findings of a similar survey done in 2013.
The data revealed highly religious nations to be more accepting of homosexuality overall, but religious nations also led the list of least accepting places. Nations with large Catholic populations like Uganda and El Salvador were among those nations whose citizens overwhelmingly viewed homosexuality as morally unacceptable. In the United States, the percentages for the general population broke down as follows: 37% viewed homosexuality as immoral, 23% moral, 35% amoral.
That’s the facts according to Pew. The reality in these nations and how religion has influenced LGBT-inclusion practically might be different. HuffPost Live hosted a segment which asked, “Why are Religious Places the Most LGBT-Friendly?” It featured two LGBT people from Brazil, Nathalie Vassallo, a blogger, and Thiago Araujo, a journalist with the Brasil Post.
Vassallo rejected Pew’s findings that Brazil was a positive place for LGBT people, which was confirmed by Araujo. She questioned the survey’s wording and asked “What does it mean to be an accepting country?” Government policies which protect gay people do not necessarily mean there is cultural acceptance, and even respondents who said homosexuality was morally acceptable would be uncomfortable with a family member coming out to them. Even though Brazil scored highly in the Pew data, it may not be a truly LGBT-affirming nation.
And what role has religion played in cultural and societal acceptance or rejection? Araujo said he would feel more comfortable walking into a Catholic church than a Protestant one, but that neither would be truly comfortable and safe places. Addressing Catholicism in the segment was gay priest Gary Meier of St. Louis, who said the following of the Pew data:
“I don’t think it was anything that I was surprised to find out. I’ve known for a some time and a lot of folks have known that the people in Church, in the pews are predominantly supporting LGBT issues…
“The hierarchy in the Catholic Church has been very vocal about condemning homosexuality, homosexual acts, and things like that. But the people from the pews, and again the poll reflects that, the people in Spain were folks that are predominantly Catholic, they’re from the pews…the voices from the pews are quite different than from the pulpit…
“The Church is the People of God and the People of God are very clear that homosexuality is not a moral issue. It just isn’t. And we need to grow in acceptance and love and tolerance for all people, regardless of who they love.”
Meier was hopeful at how Pope Francis has softened the institutional tone around LGBT issues, while reminding viewers that a change in Church teaching is probably not imminent. He said further:
“That tone is rooted in the teaching. We’ve got to change the teaching. We’ve got to get this out of the realm of morality. Homosexuality is not a moral issue. You’re gay or you’re not gay. You’re bisexual or you’re not bisexual. We don’t go around asking people if heterosexual people are morally correct…
“If anyone can move that forward it’s somebody like Pope Francis, but he’s got a lot of opposition in the hierarchy putting pressure on him to not move this issue too far, too fast…In the end, I’m confident that the truth will win out and the truth will be told that all people are created in the image and likeness of God for love.”
The truth about the Pew data and Catholic nations’ acceptance of LGBT people seems to be found somewhere in the middle of all this. It is certainly true that predominantly Catholic nations, and Catholic states within the US, have been at the forefront of passing laws and policies protecting LGBT equality. It is also true that support for laws does not eliminate internalized homophobia and transphobia, meaning cultural change is ongoing. Finally, there is the sad truth that in places like Uganda, the Catholic faith is being used to propagate anti-LGBT discrimination and hatred.
What do you think? Are nations with large Catholic populations generally friendlier places for LGBT people or is the Pew data incorrect?
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry