New Studies Detail Surge in Catholic Support for LGBTQ Equality, Even As Inequities Remain

Ryan Burge

New studies have found that U.S. Catholic attitudes towards same-gender civil marriage and the overall acceptance of LGBTQ identities has increased exponentially over the last 30 years. Similar cultural patterns have emerged globally, although disparities persist in various parts of the world.

Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University, reported on what he called a “seismic shift” towards same-gender civil marriage, in an essay for The Washington Post. Burge compared recent studies to a nationwide survey conducted in 1988, in which only 12% of U.S. Catholics affirmed the legal right of LGBTQ couples to marry. He observed:

“[O]pinion had shifted dramatically among Roman Catholics by the time the question was asked in 2004; then, 38 percent of Catholics said they supported same-sex marriage. Six years later support had jumped another 10 percentage points; by 2012 over half of Catholics favored marriage equality. In just eight years, from 2010 to 2018, Catholics’ support for same-sex marriage increased by 25 percentage points, reaching a high of 72.6 percent in 2018.”

Pope Francis’ recent reaffirmation of same-gender civil unions reflects this cultural transformation among U.S. Catholics. Burge underscored the phenomenon further, stating:

“In fact, U.S. polling data offers little to suggest that the Church would face significant backlash by changing its stance on what was once a centerpiece of the culture wars.”

Burge also analyzed a national survey conducted by the Democracy Fund, finding that:

“Beginning in July 2019 and continuing through June 2020, the Democracy Fund’s Nationscape survey has asked its 306,000 respondents how favorably they viewed gays and lesbians. Results are clear: Huge swaths of the general public hold a favorable view of the LGBTQ community. . .

“When that data is broken down by age, it’s clear that Catholics over the age of 40 years old are actually more likely to hold favorable views of ‘gays and lesbians’ than non-Catholics. For instance, over three-quarters of Catholics between 50 and 60 years old said that they held a favorable view of gays and lesbians. That’s eight to ten points higher than the among non-Catholics.”

On the global stage, Catholic attitudes towards same-gender marriage and LGBTQ identities have also increased. In Europe, however, there is a divide. The Pew Research Center reported an overwhelming number of Catholics in Western Europe supporting same-gender marriage. The study determined:

“In Western Europe, large majorities of Catholics said in 2017 that they support legal same-sex marriage. That was the case in the Netherlands (92%), the United Kingdom (78%), France (74%) and Germany (70%).”

However, the majority of Catholics surveyed in Central and Eastern European nations opposed same-gender civil marriage. The Pew Research Center documented its findings:

“[I]n almost all of the Central and Eastern European countries surveyed by the Center in 2015 and 2016, most Catholics oppose same-sex marriage. Nine-in-ten Catholics in Ukraine said same-sex marriage should be illegal, as did 66% of Catholics in Hungary and 62% of Catholics in Poland. Most nations in Central and Eastern Europe do not allow legal same-sex unions of any kind.”

The Pew Research Center also found similar divisions globally:

“In the Americas, majorities of Catholics in several countries said society should be accepting of homosexuality. That was the case in Canada, where almost nine-in-ten Catholics (87%) took this view, as well as in Argentina (80%), the U.S. (76%), Mexico (72%) and Brazil (71%). Other countries around the world where most Catholics said society should be accepting of homosexuality included Spain (91%), Australia (81%), the Philippines (80%) and South Africa (62%).

“In Eastern Europe, acceptance was weaker, with roughly half or fewer of Catholics saying that homosexuality should be accepted by society in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania. (In Lithuania, however, 27% of Catholics did not respond to the question.)”

When the filter of Catholicity was removed, a dramatic jump occurred in the acceptance of LGBTQ identities in many nations:

“Many of the countries surveyed in 2002 and 2019 have seen a double-digit increase in acceptance of homosexuality. This includes a 21-point increase since 2002 in South Africa and a 19-point increase in South Korea over the same time period. India also saw a 22-point increase since 2014, the first time the question was asked of a nationally representative sample there.

“There also have been fairly large shifts in acceptance of homosexuality over the past 17 years in two very different places: Mexico and Japan. In both countries, just over half said they accepted homosexuality in 2002, but now closer to seven-in-ten say this.”

Although it is clear that global divisions remain on LGBTQ equality, it is very encouraging to see these substantial statistical increases. Of course, these positive developments towards the LGBTQ community do not portray the entire picture of the legal protections for and lived experiences of LGBTQ persons. Strong levels of acceptance for, and support of same-gender marriage for LGBTQ people, do not automatically equate to robust non-discrimination protections in employment, housing, and healthcare, for example, nor do they imply that harassment, prejudice, or inequality no longer occurs.

However, these societal trends often lay the groundwork for enacting these multidimensional legal safeguards for LGBTQ persons and couples. Catholics across the globe boldly embody the social justice imperatives of their religiosity when they affirm these fundamental elements for their LGBTQ siblings.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, January 6, 2021

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