Is religion’s fight against gay marriage over?

A same sex marriage advocate waves a rainbow flag at a protest in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP ) Yesterday, … Continued

A same sex marriage advocate waves a rainbow flag at a protest in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP )

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two widely anticipated landmark rulings that were victories for gay rights advocates: striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that banned federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state and declining to rule on California’s Proposition 8, which moves California into position to join the ranks of the 12 other states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal.

Clearly, the rapidly shifting public opinion on same-sex marriage influenced the decisions (even as the public is evenly divided about whether the court should take public opinion in to account). Yesterday’s rulings would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. While the general population trends have been well covered, the way those trends have altered the American religious landscape has received less attention.

If we rewind the clock back to 2006—two years after the nation witnessed 12 states banning same-sex marriage in a single election cycle—the debate seemed destined to remain one between secular Americas who supported same-sex marriage and religious Americans who did not. More than six-in-10 (63 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans supported same-sex marriage, but not a single major religious group approached majority support. Among religious Americans, support ranged from a high of 41 percent among white mainline Protestants, to a low of only 12 percent among white evangelical Protestants (Pew Research Center, 2006).

But the debate can no longer be described as one between nonreligious and religious Americans. Support for same-sex marriage has risen by double digits in every major religious group since 2006. Today, solid majorities of Catholics (57 percent)—including equal proportions of white Catholics (58 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (59 percent)—and white mainline Protestants (55 percent) have joined the religiously unaffiliated (76 percent) in supporting same-sex marriage (PRRI, March 2013). The National Cathedral, which is affiliated with the mainline Episcopal Church, rang its bells at noon on Wednesday in support of the DOMA ruling and opened its doors for a special service for LGBT families and their allies “to celebrate the extension of federal marriage equality to all the same-sex couples modeling God’s love in lifelong covenants.”

To be sure, there is still significant religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Less then four-in-10 (37 percent) black Protestants and only one-quarter of white evangelical Protestants (24 percent) support it. Fully seven-in-10 (71 percent) white evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage, and nearly half (46 percent) say they strongly oppose it.

But even this continued opposition to same-sex marriage among the most conservative religious groups does not tell the entire story. Although black Protestants overall do not support same-sex marriage, among the seven-in-10 who know of President Obama’s support for the issue, a majority (53 percent) say they approve of Obama’s position. Most notable, though, is this finding: a slim majority (51 percent) of young white evangelical Protestants (ages 18-34) now support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally.

If there are literal bells ringing in support of same-sex marriage among mainline Protestants, these unheralded but significant numbers toll the fading future of religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

Robert P. Jones
Written by

  • An-Toan

    A great shift in consciousness is unfolding in the West that is consistent with thousands of years of history in some cultures of the East: There are no inherent contradictions between sexual orientation and spirituality. An overwhelming majority of people no longer will tolerate the irrational and false views of fundamentalist, Catholic, and other Christian leaders and their anti-democratic political allies who for centuries sexually have oppressed the LGBT. This sexual oppression is a form of spiritual oppression. It is incompatible with contemporary Christianity. In time, homophobic remarks that are predicated on dogma properly will be interpreted as hate speech.

  • Bluefish2012

    “Contemporary Christianity” is kind of an oxymoron. To Paraphrase Hebrews, Christianity is the same yesterday, today, and forever. No amount of new-agey wool-gathering will change that.

  • Bluefish2012

    Hm. As if Christ set up a Facebook poll to decide what He meant. Or said what he did based on what was trending on Twitter that day.

  • An-Toan

    Religions are — and always have been — compilations of mysticism, mythology, theology, philosophy, ethics, institutions, etc. As aspects of culture, they are imbued with contradictions. To some extent they evolve, devolve, and become transformed in dialectical processes.

  • Rongoklunk

    Religions come from the days when we knew very little about reality. It’s hard to imagine how ignorant people must have been in the infancy of our species. They knew what they needed to know to survive, and almost nothing else. LIfe went on that way for hundreds of thousands of years.
    And over time they invented thousands of Gods. It must have given them hope of something better after death. And believing in supernatural thingies and life after death didn’t necessarily contradict what the knew about reality, because they didn’t KNOW that much about reality. We all would have believed in Gods in those days. But today we are being educated beyond superstitions, and religions no longer make sense – because of what we are learning from science. It’s just the money-hungry hucksters who keep it alive, because there’s money in it.
    Even the pope lives in a Palace when kids in Africa starve.

  • leibowde84

    Bluefish, you are very mistaken, and could benefit from studying the development of early Christianity. The faith changed a great deal, going back and forth between powerful sects who believed very different things about what Jesus wanted for us. Once the Cannon was put together, including the Gospels (written by various sects, not apostles of Jesus, and chosen from over 30 options) that the Church had any kind of consistency. Even after this point, some followers of Jesus’ teachings, like St. Francis, challenged the idea of what it meant to be a Christian so much that the Vatican put a price on his head. He preached that people were ignoring the Gospels by holding on to possessions and greed (pretty easy to see today by going to Vatican City in Rome), and this threatened the existing power structure of the Church.

    So, please don’t claim that the Church has been constant without providing some kind of explanation to the above facts.

  • leibowde84

    Nobody knows what Jesus said. All signs point to the Bible being very inncurate. People who claim that they know what Jesus wants, simply because of their subjective understanding of a book written about him decades after his death, are speculative at best. So, to claim that the Christian faith should be unchanging is extremely ignorant of the history of the church.

  • NPLenz

    Someone else who could benefit greatly from a study of ‘the development of early Christianity’ would be liebow; may I suggest you utilize study materials other than those written by Bart Ehrman and Dan Brown?

  • Hildy J

    If you believe the bible, Jesus never spoke of homosexuality, it all comes from later books in the NT and from the OT. He did speak against divorce. It would seem that this was a much bigger problem to him. Why not stop gay bashing and try to repeal divorce laws?

  • Top8305

    “Jesus never spoke of homosexuality, it all comes from later books in the NT and from the OT.”

    Actually, in Christ Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage and Divorce (Mt 19:1-15), Jesus presents the God-Graced conditions for the Faithfull: Marriage or the chastity of a single person. Jesus taught that other arrangements are not in accord with the Will of God by identifying the two arrangements that do conform to God’s Will and omitting others that are not. This teaching, as you cited, is supported and elaborated on in both Testaments and can only be construed otherwise by twisting scripture (to one’s own destruction) which is, again, warned against in verse after verse of God’s Word.

    The Faithful don’t have to like it, don’t have to understand it, don’t have to agree with it; the Faithful has to obey God’s Word.
    “First comes Faith, then comes understanding.” St. Augustine (354-430)
    “Walk in God’s Way, with the Gospel as our Guide.” St. Benedict (480-543)
    (all of the Gospel – every word, not proof-texted to support what we want it to say)

    God Love you and Save us all.
    Pax et bonum,

  • leibowde84

    I haven’t read anything by them. Only Christian historians … who are in fact Christian. So, instead of just calling me dumb, care to back up your point with some resources, or are you just throwing hate?

  • leibowde84

    Where do you get the crazy notion that Christianity hasn’t changed? I’d like to see some resources from non-Christian scholars on that.

  • leibowde84

    How come it’s OK for early Christian leaders to elaborate on what Jesus meant regarding marriage, but we as modern Christians aren’t aloud to. The Bible is literally a book made up of man-made elaborations on the life of Jesus and his teachings. You can’t possibly believe that the many many authors of even the new testament got everything right?! That is a statistical impossibility. As a reasonalbe, logical, thinking person you must agree that the chances that some portions of the New Testament were elaborations, additions, or clarifications made by man in an effort to better explain Christ’s teachings.

  • An-Toan

    To learn about early Christianity, what articles or books might be good to read? For example, maybe something not too complicated that may be suitable for students of other cultures?

  • leibowde84

    THere is a terrific lecture called “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity,” which is filled with interesting, practically unknown facts about the development of the early Church. And, it actually is by Bart Ehrman. So, NP Lenz was right.

    But, I don’t see why NPLenz would think ill of him. It seems like conservatives have a problem believing historians if it goes against their religious beliefs. Their reaction is always … oh, he’s just trying to destroy religion.

  • leibowde84

    But, there are tons of great resources to pick from. Another is called “The Historical Jesus.” Now, obviously all of these historians have their own takes on what actually happened. But, they are a lot more reliable than simply reading the Bible, as they are based on historical theories instead of theology.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    Let’s be rational and honest. Gay marriage, or the other kind, means nothing to society until the children, if any, are raised. At that point, I think it will be those children’s opinion of having same sex parents, that matter most — as a general finding.

  • enness

    Come on now, Mr. Jones. Mainline Protestants? LOL. They threw in the towel on contraception decades ago. Do you expect anybody to be surprised?

    Don’t get cocky, there, Macbeth. Us conservatives are the ones having five bajillion kids the old-fashioned way, remember? Did you ever think half a million people would march on D.C. against legal abortion?

    I’ll leave you with a saying you might have heard from your mother (which too many children will not experience): “If everybody else jumped off a cliff…”

  • enness

    leibowde84: He left a church, not a book.

  • drmwlau

    Merit aside, this article is a grain of sand in the Sahara of the Post’s obsessive stratospheric over-the-top cover-to-cover advocacy of the issue. The difference between newpaper and propaganda tract is the price one pays for it.

  • jeb_jackson

    Christian opposition to same sex marriage will not fade in defeat. It is a question of maintaining what is right. What five judges do about it can be dismissed as ignorance of what life is. A popularity contest it is not.

    We will all live under this mistake which will probably never change. It is a tradegy that we think we can change something that is wrong into something that is right because most of us think that’s what we should do.

    May God have mercy on us!

  • Carstonio

    Jones isn’t telling the whole story either. In the last half-century, white evangelicalism has become largely a political movement. Or to be more precise, a movement that sees no distinction between the political and religious. On just about every issue dealing with equality, regardless of ethnicity or gender or orientation or religious affiliation, this group has been on the wrong side. Same-sex marriage is largely a proxy for them – it means that a husband isn’t the default head of household and that (their version of) Christianity isn’t society’s default religion.

  • leibowde84

    Sorry, enness, the church was not formed until after Jesus’ death. Paul left us a church. Jesus merely left us teachings.

  • leibowde84

    It’s wrong to teach your children that the sexual orientation of a significant part of the population is “sinful” or “against God’s will.” And the horribly pathetic excuse of “it’s in the bible, so it must be true” is not only insulting, but devoid of any logic or reason. Beyond speculation, there is absolutely no evidence that God doesn’t approve of homosexual marriage.

  • leibowde84

    Whatever sells. They are a business out to make money.

  • dlafave

    In the 1850s, many people said the same thing about slavery, and In the 1960s, many people said the same thing about segregation. Both slavery and segregation were considered to be God’s Law by many Southern whites, and many Northern ones too. With hindsight, those people seem both wrong and monstrous, and soon you will seem equally misguided.

  • Bill Lamond

    What religious people seem to forget is that many, many, many early American pioneers CAME TO THE US TO GET OUT FROM UNDER THE YOKE OF RELIGIONS AND RELIGIOIUS ZEALOTS.

    Oh, one more thing…Religion is getting to be something that young people don’t really care about. As the older generation dies off, these discussions will be as dated as branding people with a Scarlet A. Only a matter of time… Thank God.

  • Bill Lamond

    Please send this same message to Fox News, whose agenda is well known and “over the top.”

  • Bill Lamond

    As we know, the great thief, Paul, co-opted Jesus’ teachings, which were basically open-hearted loving, and made them into the image and likeness of the SOB he was – a thug, a woman hater, sex negative, and in horror of the body. This, of course, has happened many, many times to enlightened people – who always lead with an open heart.

  • tony55398

    When is a marriage not a marriage? When two people of the same sex pretend to wed.

  • dlafave

    When is a marriage a marriage? When a couple meets the legal conditions of marriage. That’s it. Period. However you might like to disparage same-sex married couples, they’re just as married as I am.

  • tony55398

    Research is needed in the why of homosexuality. What is it in the creation of a human life that would cause the condition of same sex attraction? Then if parents were aware of such they could take action to intervene. Homosexuality is not the norm nor should it be considered as such. I’m not saying that if you are a homosexual that it can now be changed, but only if a reason for this could be discovered while still in the process of a babies formation. Is it in the DNA or some other reason, the process of hormonal interaction? If for some reason there is a medical condition that could be treated even now should gays be expected to accept it, use it or reject it? What if parents could test for a babies sexual preference and nothing could be done, with the present abortion laws, what then?

  • tony55398

    In the eyes of man they are, but not in God’s.

  • An-Toan

    The recent poll by Public Religion Research Group shows that a majority of white evangelical Protestants (51%) under the age of 35 support same sex marriage as compared to 15% of white evangelical seniors. Young people are helping to stop the sexual and spiritual oppression of the LGBT. This thankfully may give their generation more time and energy to help save the planet and bring about world peace.


    The world does not need five bajillion more people.