Elected officials’ Catholic dilemma on same-sex marriage

Mike Groll AP New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on … Continued

Mike Groll


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.

It wouldn’t come as a shock if New York politicians are starting to sweat–not from the summer heat, but from worry about the political fallout from this week’s legislative vote to make New York the sixth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to legalize same-sex marriage. After all, New York’s Catholic Bishops have expressed outrage over the vote, and nearly 40 percent of New York voters are Catholic. But, the polls show a surprising reality that may ease the worries of some elected officials even as it makes their job harder. There are in fact two very different Catholic voices that elected officials in New York and elsewhere around the country have to navigate: the big “C” voice of the Catholic bishops who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage, and the little “c” voices of Catholics in the pews who are largely supportive.

In fact, rank-and-file Catholics are generally more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than Americans overall. A May 2011 survey by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found 56 percent of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, compared to 51 percent in the general population. These numbers are not anomalies. Survey after survey show majority support for legal recognition of same-sex relationships among Catholics. A March 2011 ABC/Washington Post poll found 60 percent of Catholics support marriage for same-sex couples, compared to 53 percent of the general population. A January 2011 Quinnipiac University survey found 52 percent of New York Catholic voters support allowing same-sex couples to marry, compared to 56 percent of all New York voters.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that Catholic support has slipped slightly with New York Catholic voters now evenly split (48 percent -48 percent), but that poll also revealed that seven-in-10 New York Catholic voters said that opposition to same-sex marriage by religious leaders made no difference in their support.

Support is strong across the board for gay and lesbian rights among Catholics. More than seven-in-10 (73 percent) Catholics support laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace, and 60 percent of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. There’s also a large theological gulf between official church teachings and rank-and-file Catholics: a solid majority (56 percent) of Catholics–10 points higher than the general population—say sex between two adults of the same gender is not a sin.

These stark differences pose a dilemma for politicians who are trying to discern the Catholic voice in their districts on the issues of same-sex marriage and other rights for gay and lesbian Americans. With the bishops sending one message and lay Catholics sending another, politicians may have the unenviable task of choosing between the official capital “C” Church hierarchy represented by the bishops and the lower case “c” church represented by the laity.

This post has been updated.

Robert P. Jones
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  • dramaman

    in San Francisco a very astute very clever tragi/comedy about same sex marriage emerged in Playwright Larry Myers’ new stage work–

    done for private audience

    “Tatoos Appearing”

    it is objective, witty, enlightened & wise
    Dr Myers is a theater authority & a spiritual dramatist

  • usapdx

    Just keep religions out of our government. Those groups that speak out on political matters, do not claim TAX EXEMPT.

  • amelia45

    What do Catholic politicians do? Stay respectful of the Bishops and the catholics. Talk to and listen to both the Bishops and the small “c” catholics. Pray. See where their own conscience takes them. Our blessed Church is wrong on the issue of gay marriage and gay sex, as they are wrong on artificial birth control, wrong on mandated celibacy, wrong on denying the priesthood to women. Not all small “c” catholics agree with all of that statement; despite a leadership that still thinks we are uneducated peasants, we do think independently. The small “c” catholics want to bring the Church into the awareness of God’s gifts to All of us, straight and gay, male and female.

  • joe_allen_doty

    No true Believer in Jesus is required to be a member of any denominational church. The POLITICIZED religion of “Christianity” was created by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. There is no such thing as “Christianity” in the Bible.

    The Roman Catholic Church denomination (which has its own country) should stay out of American politics.

  • Albert911emt

    The Catholic bishops are simply parroting the words of their boss…..no, I don’t mean God, I mean the Pope. I’d bet that quite a few bishops would be willing to openly support gay rights, but they don’t get paid to think for themselves.

  • thebump

    First of all, 56% hardly qualifies as “largely”. Oh, but of course, it’s not 56, it’s 48 and an even split. No worries—for purposes of ideological cant, an even-steven plurality is still “largely”.

    More importantly, though, the 56 or 48 (or whatever) ain’t “Catholics in the pews” — it’s nominal adherents who are indifferent to the faith, don’t practice it, and in fact are largely ignorant of it.

  • aress

    The state has always supported and encouraged marriage as we know it to be. A devine state instituted by God. Who are these new kind of so called Catholics???
    Married couples are an advantage and help to the state and that is why the state gives them benefits. Married ouples generally have families and it is in the family where finer principles, standars of behavior, and morals are developed. It is necessary for the protection of family and society and filters on down into all of society as the children leave home and make their own family.
    Two men or two women haveing sex and living together are of no advantage to he state.

  • aress

    You, Amelia, have no concept of the mind of God. And how did you come into this awareness of Gods gifts?
    Those who practice sodomy, and encougage others to do the same , should not be expecting to see many of Gods gifts.

  • aress

    Jo-allen-doty, There is nothing in the bible that says that unless a word is found there, word usage, word meanng, word denotation must cease. The word CHRISTIAN is most certainly there , both in ACTS, and 1 PETER. it is used to describe one who believes in the man JESUS. And so, the word CHRISTIANITY, would be the form used to denote those groups of believers.. Nothing wrong with that . It is the perfect word for indication and to refer to specifically .

  • gonnagle

    This issue once again proves that the Catholic Church is completely out of touch with its membership.

  • geraldodoire

    Amelia, these are just opinions that you are rhyming off and not the official viewpoints of the Church. The Church was mandated to teach, clarify and chastise on matters relating to gospel values. The Church teaches correctly that sex is intended for the mutual love of a man and woman in marriage ordered towards procreation as nature designed it. God gave His people the imperative to ‘go forth and multiply’ and obviously contraception is a barrier to this. The teaching on celibacy is not explicitly mandated in the bible but Paul clearly alluded to it in 1Corinthians..”… The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband..”(1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

  • geraldodoire

    The Catholic Church is not driven by the latest opinion polls on certain issues which is never really a healthy basis upon which any church can conduct their ministry. The Church mandated role was given to Her by Jesus Christ Her founder which is to faithfully relay biblical teachings to all nations on the earth without fear or favor.

  • Carstonio

    Dumb question – why couldn’t the Catholic politicians simply follow their own consciences? it’s not like the the bishop level of the Catholic hierarchy is in charge of theology. Plenty of Christians in and out of Catholicism see no contradiction between their faith in Jesus and things like homosexuality and contraception. More specifically, they may stay away from those things themselves but they don’t begrudge it in others, because first and foremost they value treating others with love and kindness.

  • david6

    After recent decades, why would anyone care what the Catholic bishops have to say? Do they have any moral standing at all? It’s nice to see that Catholic laity are far ahead of the bishops, morally. Sadly, with Dolan as the head of American bishops, there’s little chance that they will reform themselves.

  • david6

    The propaganda foundation of the Catholic Church is completely without substantiation. Until they can produce God to tell us that they are the “real” Christian Church, I will cheerfully ignore the bishops and their oppressive teachings.

  • david6

    geraldodoire doesn’t seem to understand that the RCC claims power from the Bible, but has no ability to show that the Bible is anything but the writings of religious leaders intent in self-justification.

  • thebump

    david6, that box was ticked about 2,000 years ago.

  • thebump

    A Catholic’s duty is to follow his conscience — but it should go without saying that he must first do everything in his power to ensure that his conscience is fully developed and correctly informed. It is the latter that is the undoing of many would-be dissidents.

    A properly formed conscience compels us to act differently than we would act in its absence. Too many people wrongly think the opposite — that “following my conscience” gives them permission to do what they would do anyway.

  • geraldodoire

    David, the Old and New Testaments which compose the bible contain 1,5000 years of the history of the relationship between the tribes of Israel and the One True God. It was a collective effort by Jewish scholars and priests to put down on parchment the historical narratives, psalms and poetry that comprises the OT books. The historical figures who are featured in the biblical stories, King David, Abraham, Herod etc have been verified by contemporaneous sources of that time and by archaeological evidence. Jesus Christ, Our Savior was undoubtedly conducting his ministry around Judea around 2000 years ago as we have first hand accounts in the NT Gospels by 4 of his apostles who accompanied him. Extra-biblical sources like the Jewish historian Eusebius have referred to a man called Jesus Christ who was making major ripples in Palestine through His teachings and actions.

  • geraldodoire

    No, aryousaying obviously not. When Jesus founded the Church he promised that he was protect Her through the guidance of the Holy Spirit from deviating in a supernatural sense from his message. That did not guarantee that the leaders of the Church would not fall into to sin due to the inherent weaknesses of our humanity. The Church globally is experiencing a severe chastisement over the wrong-doing of priests, bishops and religious. This will all culminate in a widespread cleansing which should leave the Church in a far healthier spiritual state

  • Carstonio

    “”following my conscience” gives them permission to do what they would do anyway.” – Without taking issue with that, I’m not talking about such instances. I’m talking about cases where the Catholic politician feels that following his church’s teachings to the letter would cause more harm to others than following his own conscience. Sort of like a conscientious objector whose pacifism is grounded in some version of Christianity and feels that serving in combat would conflict with his conscience.