The latest Pew Research poll regarding same-sex marriage shows a dramatic uptick in support from Catholics. From 2016 – 2017, Catholic support for gay marriage jumped by nine percentage points (58% to 67%).
For comparison, in the six years from 2010 – 2016, approval among Catholics for same-sex marriage climbed steadily by twelve percentage points (46% to 58%)
This spike is likely the result of several factors.
The 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage seems to have made a massive impact. Prior to Obergefell, same-sex marriage was a “states issue,” with 37 states and D.C. having legalized it in some form. That said, the war was still raging, as 13 states had either banned same-sex marriage outright or were involved in litigation regarding the issue.
SCOTUS rendered moot what was previously a thriving factional war in which individuals and groups opposed to same-sex marriage had the backing of politicians and state governments.
Some in the Catholic Church who were holding out may have simply given up the fight when the ruling was delivered, leading to that 9% bump.
While the Pew Research survey claims that 67% of “Catholics” support same-sex marriage, it doesn’t appear to differentiate between devout Catholics, who would attend Mass weekly (or more frequently), and “cultural Catholics,” who may only attend Mass several times a year.
There’s a substantial difference.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), only 23% of Catholics claim to attend Mass once a week or more; 20.5% say they attend “almost every week” or “once or twice a month”; 24% claim they attend “a few times a year”; 32% say they attend “rarely or never.”
Although the data from this survey is several years old, it is a significant finding. Common sense dictates that those who attend Mass more often would likely adhere more closely to the teachings of the Catholic Church and of scripture. Those who attend less frequently would likely veer further from scriptural principles, especially if those principles are discordant with their personal lives.
If the CARA survey is correct, a whopping 56% of Catholics attend Mass “rarely or never,” or just “a few times a year.” These individuals are the definition of “cultural Catholics,” people who identify as Catholic, but don’t necessarily follow the teachings of the church.
Given these numbers, it’s no surprise that 67% of “Catholics” support same-sex marriage.
The presence of societal pressure cannot be overstated. Whether or not the Catholic Church is teaching scriptural principles (e.g. homosexual conduct is a sin), there are going to be a number of Catholics who are influenced away from that core teaching. Social pressure, gay friends and family members, the disproportionate number of positively portrayed LGBT characters in television and movies, and political rhetoric could all contribute to a Catholic individual’s reluctance to hold to the belief that homosexual conduct, and therefore same-sex marriage, is morally wrong.
This pressure may, over time, cause some Catholics to entirely disregard the teachings of the church regarding homosexuality. Some may see these particular teachings as something they can delicately carve out from their belief system, while maintaining the rest.
Whatever the case may be, the Pew survey shows that Catholics (as well as other American denominations) are slowly but surely losing the long-fought war between Christianity and secular culture.