A recent report about Catholic support for same-sex marriage funded by a major gay rights activist foundation may have overstated support in the Catholic Church for gay marriage because many of the polls used in the analysis did not give respondents the option to choose common law unions instead of marriage for gay couples.
According to the analysis, released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 53 percent of Catholics support gay marriage and 56 percent of Catholics believe same-sex relationships are not sinful. PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones and PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox asserted that these statistics show that Catholics are more progressive on the topic of gay and lesbian issues than the general population.
But support for gay marriage was quickly qualified by one of the presenters of the information. While calling support for same-sex unions "a surprise to many Catholic activists," Stephen Schneck, Catholic University of America's director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, suggested that if all of the polls about gay marriage also mentioned civil unions, the report would reveal that Catholics who attend parish services weekly or twice a month largely favor civil union over gay marriage. He said, "Catholics appear to like civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage."
He noted that not every poll recorded in the report gave Catholics the option of choosing civil unions or gay marriage. In polls that did mention civil unions, Schneck said more white Catholics favored civil unions than any other denomination. Schneck, a Catholic, asserted that he himself opposes same-sex marriage.
Major funding for the PRRI report was supplied by the Arcus Foundation, a social justice group working to advance LGBT equality. Data for the report was supplied by the Pew Research Center. According to Stand Firm, an organization supporting traditional views in the Anglican Church in America, the Arcus Foundation was created by billionaire Jon Stryker, one of the heirs to the Stryker medical device fortune. Listed in Forbes as one of the world's billionaires (in 2008 his estimated net worth was $1.8 billion), the openly gay Stryker created the Arcus Foundation in order to fund the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) agenda, according to Stand Firm.
During the teleconference, PRRI's Cox asserted that Catholics are liberal-minded when it comes to theology about homosexuality. Cox said the study shows that only 39 percent of Catholics believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. Additionally, the majority of Catholics don't believe that sexual relations between two same sex adults are a sin.
By contrast, conservative and evangelical Protestants believe homosexuality and sexual relations between two same sex adults to be a moral sin, according to the study.
Just over half of African American Protestants believe that same sex couple should receive no legal recognition. Similarly, 58 percent of white evangelicals believe in no legal recognition for homosexual couples.
More white mainline Protestants favor gay marriage over no recognition by a slight margin, 36 percent to 29 percent. However, the number of white and Latino Catholics supporting the same outnumber white Protestants by at least five percentage points.
In summary, PRRI CEO Jones said Catholics have, by far, the most liberal views on gay rights of any of the Christian religions.
"These data demonstrate that the momentum for legal recognition for same-sex unions is strong among American Catholics and likely growing with generational change," said Schneck. "Even among Latino Catholics, long supposed to be a group supportive of traditional social values, the numbers point to growing support for same-sex marriage. The question facing the American bishops, who oppose same-sex marriage on doctrinal grounds, is how they will choose to address this momentum."
Jones asserted that American Catholics' embrace of gay rights maybe is a sign that the country as a whole is changing its view on homosexuality. He said that Catholic attitudes on gay rights in the PRRI report are similar to that of recently released Washington Post-ABC news poll. The poll found that a slim majority of Americans – 53 percent – now support gay marriage. A substantial portion, 41 percent, of the Catholics polled and analyzed by the PRRI study reported not attending mass very often.
Jones also noted that last year Catholics showed overwhelming support for Republican candidates in the midterm election. Likewise, many Americans also voted Republican ushering a takeover in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result, Jones called Catholics the "quintessential swing group."
The issue of same-sex marriage continues to be a serious issue of conflict in the Catholic Church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on marriage and same-sex unions in 2003. The declaration quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in stating, "Only a union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity willed by God for marriage."
It went on further to state it is wrong to equate same-sex union on equal terms with marriage between a man and woman.
Additionally, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan affirmed the Catholic Church's stance on gay marriage last Sunday in an interview with "60 Minutes," defining "marriage by nature, marriage by definition" as "a man and woman for life, giving children."
Dolan summed up his stance on the discussion on the issue by urging, "Don't tamper with the definition."