American Catholics Support Marriage Equality Despite Church Position

Recent statements and polling data have again demonstrated that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is completely out of touch with the beliefs and values of the people they are supposed to represent. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted between February 8 and 13, 2012 shows that over two-thirds of Catholics believe that gay and lesbian couples deserve some sort of relationship recognition. The poll also found that forty-four percent of Catholics believe that gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry, and that quarter of Catholics support civil unions.

It has been clear for some time now that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is out of step with lay Catholics on a range of social issues, from marriage equality to contraception. This data is in keeping with a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) who, last month, published a report that compiled data collected in July and August of 2011 about religious affiliation, age, and support for marriage equality. This poll found that support for marriage equality is higher across the board among millennials (those born in the 1980s through the early 2000s), regardless of the official doctrine of their religion. This divide can be seen even among supportive religious groups like Catholics; about 55% of all Catholics and 66% of Catholic millennials support marriage equality.

A recent article in the Washington Post, written by New Ways Ministry Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director, addresses the Catholic case for marriage equality. New Ways Ministry is a member of Equally Blessed, which brings together Catholics who advocate for LGBT inclusion within the church. In their article, Sister Gramick and DeBernardo state that the argument in favor of marriage equality rests not only on the multitudes of changes to the ‘definition of marriage’ that can be seen in the Christian Bible, but also on Catholic social doctrine.

Sister Gramick and DeBernardo write:

Catholic social teaching requires that all people be treated with dignity, regardless of their state in life or their beliefs. It upholds the importance of access to health-care benefits, the protection of children, dignity in end of life choices, and, most importantly, the promotion of stable family units. Marriage equality legislation would be an obvious boon to same-sex couples and their children in each of these areas, yet the bishops are spending millions of dollars opposing it.

They also suggest that this is an issue of civil marriage, sanctioned by the state and not the church. The difference between civil marriage and sacramental or religious marriage is not often specified in polls asking about support for marriage equality, but it is an important distinction.

 Catholics for Equality note that distinguishing between civil marriages, “like you get at city hall,” and marriages within the church made a significant difference in the percentage of Catholics who supported marriage equality in research conducted by PRRI. Without this clarification, that the question was only being asked about civil marriage, PRRI’s numbers were comparable to those seen in the New York Times/CBS News Poll, placing Catholic support for marriage equality at 43%. When the question specified civil marriage, however, support soared to 71%, representing nearly three quarters of those who were asked. The differences seen in support depending on how questions are phrased demonstrates that polling organizations must be careful to be as specific and clear as possible in order to get the most accurate numbers.

GLAAD commends Sister Gramick, Mr. DeBernardo, and all pro-LGBT Catholics for their continued support for marriage equality. We are also pleased to see acknowledgement in the media that a majority of Catholics support equality for LGBT people. The recent polls demonstrate in important, but not often reported disconnect between the position most often presented by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the beliefs of the church’s followers.