Home > Spotlight Analysis > Will Catholics Take Action on Same-Sex Marriage?
Will Catholics Take Action on Same-Sex Marriage?
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux,
Topics: LGBTQ

Photo from Michele.Oliveira82 via Flickr

Over the past few weeks, two of the most influential figures in the global Catholic hierarchy spoke out, urging Catholics to join together in the moral struggle against same-sex marriage.  Pope Benedict XVI, in a much-publicized trip to his homeland, Germany, identified same-sex marriage as a critical threat, not just to the integrity of Catholicism, but to Christianity as a whole.  Closer to home, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York warned President Obama that continuing to refuse to support the Defense of Marriage Act could “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions.”

Both of these assertions signaled the Catholic hierarchy’s renewed commitment to marshaling the ranks of lay Catholics against same-sex marriage, an effort which may not be as successful as the Pope or the Archbishop would like.  According to a recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute, Catholics are among the most supportive Christian denominations on same-sex marriage (52% support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 19% of white evangelical Protestants and 51% of white mainline Protestants).  Catholic support for “legal agreements” that would give same-sex couples “many of the same rights as married couples” (i.e., civil unions) is even higher, at 69%.  Meanwhile, only 20% of Catholics said that same-sex marriage was a critical issue, compared to immigration (48%), the federal deficit (69%), and unemployment (77%).

All of this shows that for the most part, Catholics are quite willing to selectively deviate from their hierarchy on personal or ethical issues.  Last week, I pointed out that even though U.S. Catholic bishops are making an effort to organize lay Catholics against new regulations which require employers to provide insurance with no co-pay on birth control and other preventive health services for women, Catholics overwhelmingly support providing affordable contraceptives to low-income women and families.

But these departures from the Catholic leadership’s line on key issues don’t always cause Catholics to lean left; a majority of Catholics (62%) support the death penalty, while Catholic leaders often advocate for its abolition.