Support for gay marriage is higher among American Catholics than it is in the general population, a new study claims, with one in six Catholics giving the go-ahead to same sex unions. The study comes as Catholics worldwide urge Pope Francis to clarify the Church’s position on marriage.
The study, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and funded by the Henry Luce Foundation surveyed 1,331 Americans in early August and found that approximately one in five, a total of 384 people surveyed, were Catholic.
When those respondents were asked whether gays and lesbians should have the legal right to marry, 60 per cent of them said yes, against 55 per cent of respondents overall. Almost 53 per cent of Catholics disagreed that same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs, while 42 per cent agreed, and 76 per cent of Catholics favoured laws to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination, while 21 per cent opposed the policy.
The study also found opposition to exemption from discrimination laws on the grounds of religious freedom, with 65 per cent of Catholic respondents in opposition to a policy that would allow small business owners to refuse products or services to gay and lesbian people, even if doing so goes against their religious beliefs.
Another 28 per cent supported religious exemption from discrimination laws, but that figure rose to 58 per cent amongst those who attend church weekly or more often.
The authors of the study, Robert Jones and Daniel Cox have attributed the results to the liberal leanings of Pope Francis, titling their paper: The Francis Effect? They noted:
“Across a range of public policy questions, American Catholics are more likely to say they agree with Pope Francis than to say they disagree with him.
“However, a significant number of Catholics report being unfamiliar with the pope’s position on a range of issues, and there is evidence that some Catholics may not have an accurate understanding of Pope Francis’ positions.”
The Pope has found favour among secular Americans too: “Among religiously unaffiliated Americans, six in ten express a favorable opinion of the pope, while fewer than four in ten have favorable views of the Catholic Church,” said the authors.
The study has highlighted a generational divide among Catholics, however, which may have affected their results. Around 65 per cent of Catholics aged 18 – 29 had a favourable view of the Pope, but less than half had a similarly favourable view of the Catholic Church. By contrast, those aged over 65 are roughly equally likely to have favourable views of both the Pope and the Church, with approximately 60-65 per cent in favour of both.
In their survey methodology, the authors record: “The selection of respondents within households was accomplished by randomly requesting to speak with the youngest adult male or female currently living in the household.”
A total of 217 people aged 18-29 were interviewed, as were 444 people aged 65+ with the results then being weighted by a number of factors including age.
The study comes as a petition calling on Pope Francis to clarify his stance on marriage reached half a million signatures, including a number of Bishops, Archbishops and politicians worldwide.
The petition, lauched by TFP Student Action “implores” him to “prevent the very teaching of Jesus Christ from being watered down”, and accuses “dissident Catholic pressure groups” of attempting to subvert Church teaching on marriage, saying: “They are bombarding the Holy Father and the Synod Fathers right now with messages of revolt against traditional moral values as they clamor for “change, change, change” inside the Church.”