Lay Catholic Support for LGBTQ Rights Grows in U.S.

Today is Independence Day in the United States. For me, it is a day of reflecting not so much on my own freedom from self-interested monarchies and other oppressions but on my citizenship in a national community, and on my obligation to be the change I hope to see in it.  It’s also a good day to reflect on the role Catholics play in that project, particularly with respect to LGBTQ equality.

The reality of U.S. Catholic support for LGBT equality may surprise you.  According to a spring Bondings 2.0 survey, 61% of our readers believe that lay Catholic acceptance of LGBTQ persons has risen since 2014.  The Public Religion Research Institute’s May, 2018 report, “Emerging Consensus on LGBT Issues,” demonstrates that this impression is, if anything, conservative.

Same-Sex Marriage 

For instance, PRRI’s survey showed that across the board American acceptance of same-sex marriage rose about 10 percentage points to 61% between 2013 and 2017.  At the end of that period, about two-thirds of white and Hispanic Catholics supported same-sex marriage—a higher rate of support than the national average.

Even more important than the change over the last four-year period is the forecast that generational gaps suggest. In 2017, 77% of Hispanic Catholic young adults supported same-sex marriage, in comparison to 42% of their grandparents’ generation, aged 65 and older.  The figures for white Catholics are 80% and 53% , respectively. (PRRI did not report African American Catholic positions on these issues.)  Clearly, even if none of the Catholics who opposed same-sex marriage in 2017 ever changed their minds, within a few decades U.S. lay Catholic support for same-sex marriage would be overwhelming.

Service Refusals

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case has heightened public awareness of businesses that claim First Amendment religious freedom protection for refusing service to LGBTQ patrons.  59% of Hispanic Catholics and 60% of white Catholics opposed permitting service refusals—levels that are in line with the national average (60% of Americans oppose such policies, and 33% favor them).  In addition, U.S. Catholics oppose discrimination against LGBTQ persons in employment, housing, and public accommodations:  70%of Hispanic Catholics and 74% of white Catholics support LGBTQ civil rights, also in line with the 70% of Americans who favor anti-discrimination measures.

De-balkanizing politics?

PRRI’s data also hold out hope for lessening balkanization of politics around LGBTQ issues.  The report states:  “Young Republicans are more than twice as likely as senior Republicans to favor same-sex marriage (59% vs. 28%).” These data confirm the recent NPR report that younger members of the Republican Party are trending less conservative on social issues like same-sex marriage.  For instance, 33-year-old Georgia resident Chelsea Magee said:

“Marriage, for me, is a relationship between me and my husband and God. So if you decide that you want to marry someone of the same sex, then, I mean, that’s between you and your spouse and God. That’s not something for me to decide. And I don’t think the government should have a say so in it.”

Importantly, PRRI reports that the Democratic age gap is nearly as wide as the Republican gap:  only 63% of Democrats agec 65 and older favor same-sex marriage, whereas 87% of Democrats aged 18 to 29 support it. The upshot is that within a few decades acceptance of same-sex marriage is likely to be a no-brainer, even among groups that do not embrace it for themselves.

Change among Clergy

PRRI’s study did not poll clergy separately, but there is anecdotal evidence of a shift toward affirmation of LGBTQ rights among U.S. Catholic priests, and even toward recognition of the reality of same-sex marriage.  In an interview last week with the Washington PostNew Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardosaid that a number of priests have spoken to him “about helping with marriage prep for lesbian and gay couples. I know it’s happening.” DeBernardo observed that “‘responding pastorally,’ these priests are embracing these couples even though they can’t preside at their weddings.”  He added, “That’s a direct response to Obergefell. … If these people weren’t able to legally marry, these pastors wouldn’t be doing it.”

Despite these heartening developments, supporters of LGBTQ rights—like supporters of all rights—will need to remain vigilant.  As the recent Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering reminded us, public opinion and the courts are fickle protectors of rights.  We need to exercise our democratic freedom to back them up with legislation. A good lesson for us all on this Independence Day.

Cristina Traina, Northwestern University, July 4, 2018

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter:  Same-sex marriage has support among most American religious groups, study shows”

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