NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Six in 10 American "Millennials" – those born between 1980 and 1991 – see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married. But men, African-Americans and Southerners are least comfortable among their peers with same-sex marriage, and for the most part Christian Millennials oppose it.
These are the findings from a LifeWay Research study for an upcoming book by Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, and son Jess Rainer titled "The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation." The book is based on a wide-ranging August 2009 survey of 1,200 Millennials in the United States.
Millennials are divided in their response to the question, "How much would you agree or disagree with the statement: I see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married." Forty percent agree strongly; 21 percent agree somewhat; 15 percent disagree somewhat; and 24 percent disagree strongly.
Key differences exist by location, gender, race and religion. For example, nearly half of Millennials in the Northeast and the West strongly agree there is nothing wrong with same-sex marriage, compared with fewer than 1 in 3 Southerners.
Women are far more accepting of same-sex marriage than men. Sixty-eight percent of female Millennials agree there is nothing wrong with same-sex marriage (49 percent strongly), while 55 percent of males feel the same way (32 percent strongly).
African-Americans are more strongly opposed to marriage between members of the same gender than Hispanics and Asians, according to the study. Fifty-three percent of African-Americans disagree with the statement (32 percent strongly), while 33 percent of Hispanics and 36 percent of Asians disagree (19 percent strongly).
Opinions on the issue are sharply divided by religion, Thom Rainer pointed out. Two-thirds of those with no religious preference agree strongly there is nothing wrong with same-sex marriage, while only 1 in 7 of those who say they trust Christ as Savior agree strongly. Further, 46 percent of those who say they trust Christ as Savior strongly disagree and in fact find fault with marriage between members of the same gender.
"Discovering a significant difference in the attitudes on same-sex marriage between born-again Christians and the rest of culture," Rainer said, "was not necessarily surprising." He went further to say, "It will be a critical issue for churches – soon to be led by Millennials – to establish their biblical positions on the issue of same-sex relationships."
In a 2008 study among a sample of American adults of all ages, LifeWay Research found 48 percent of adults said "Yes" when asked, "Do you believe homosexual behavior is a sin?" At that time, only 1 in 6 of those who claimed to be born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians indicated they did not believe homosexual behavior is a sin.
The 2008 study also indicated that 32 percent of adult Americans – almost 1 in 3 – said their decision to visit or join a church would be negatively affected if that congregation taught homosexual behavior is sinful. Among those who never attend any place of worship, 49 percent said this teaching would negatively affect their decision to visit or join a church.
"If it is to find relevance with Millennials, the church must be willing to deal directly with the issue of same-sex attraction and relationships," said Rainer. "The church must voice a clear, biblical ethic of sexuality."