Poll finds Catholic-Evangelical Split Over Gay Marriage

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Where does California stand on Proposition 8 two years later?

A new survey mirrors a recent Field Poll that found a slight majority of Californians now support gay marriage. The poll also explores how major religious groups in California feel about same-sex marriage. The survey by the Washington D.C. based non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute arrives as a federal judge mulls the legality of Proposition 8 – the law that outlawed those marriages in this state.

Churches played an influential role in the passage of Proposition 8 almost two years ago. But researcher Robert Jones said his polling indicated that religious people hardly form a monolith when it comes to gay marriage.

"The debate is often framed as secular liberals against conservative religious people in California," Jones said. "Our data clearly shows is that this is not the case – that the religious community itself is basically clearly split.”

Jones heads the Public Religion Research Institute. The organization’s survey of 3,351 churchgoers in California found that White mainline Protestants - including Episcopalians and Lutherans – and Catholics are support same-sex marriage than substantially more than Protestant evangelicals and African American Protestants.

The split is biggest among Latinos. The poll found that 57% of Latino Catholics would vote for same-sex marriage today, compared to just 22% Latino Protestants.

“Overall what we really see here is a general Protestant-Catholic divide," researcher Dan Cox said. "So white Protestants verses white Catholics, we have a 20-point difference with white Protestants more likely to report hearing their clergy speak out on this issue. And we see the same size gap between Latino Protestants and Catholics as well."

Cox said the Catholic-Protestant gap is evident across a range of gay and lesbian issues – from gays serving in the military to same gender couples adopting children. The poll found the religiously unaffiliated continue to support same-sex marriage the most; more than two-thirds of them back the idea.

Jones said they also asked a number of questions about people’s images of God.

He said they found that people who regard God as a more impersonal force – who tend to be White mainline Protestants and Catholics – profess more support of gay rights.

“A view of God that is more impersonal and has kind of a force of universe has more mystery around it," he said. "And views that are about God is one with whom one can have a relationship is much more concrete.”

Jones said that the personal relationship with God evangelicals proclaim – and a literal interpretation of the Bible – leads many of them to believe that God made it clear that gay marriage is wrong.

Reverend Madison Shockley of the United Church of Christ joined researchers in releasing the poll. He said the “impersonal God” approach requires individuals to make their own call on social issues.

“It’s then incumbent on the human that has a belief in this kind of God to interpret what is good, to interpret what is love, to interpret what is positive," Shockley said. Shockley supports gay marriage.

The poll also suggested that support for gay marriage shoots up when people who go to church are assured that any gay marriage law would not require their congregation to conduct same-sex ceremonies.

“People can feel very strongly that this is wrong, yet want to find ways to accept other people’s differences," said Diane Winston teaches media and religion at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "And I think that is reflects a strong tradition that we have of pluralism and tolerance.”

The poll concluded that only one in five Californians believe the passage of Proposition 8 was a “good thing” for the state, and that nearly half believe it has not made any difference at all.

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