Why the Catholic/same-sex marriage correlation?

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USA Today‘s Cathy Grossman at Faith & Reason and the Boston Globe‘s Michael Paulson at Articles of Faith have been pondering my little correlation between the proportion of Catholics in a state and the state’s support for same-sex marriage, so let me offer a possible explanation.

It’s fair to point out (as Michael does) that Catholics tend to be concentrated in liberal states like Massachusetts, New York, and California, where there are a lot of non-Catholics (Jews, say) who we know support same-sex marriage. But what needs to be looked at are the actual rates of Catholic support for gay marriage. According to a recent WaPo-ABC News poll, white Catholics were evenly split (as opposed to white evangelicals, only 20 percent of whom supported it). That may understate Catholic support, however, at least in some places. For example, in 2003, a poll taken in working class, heavily Catholic Hudson County, New Jersey, found that over 60 percent of Catholics supported gay marriage, as compared to 30 percent of Protestants.

Cathy offers the suggestion that what’s going on here is Catholic social justice principles outweighing the magisterium’s natural law arguments against non-heterosexual unions. We here at the Greenberg Center tend to argue (see One Nation, Divisible, chapter 3) that New England, anyway, is a place where Catholics remember their own minority status well and so don’t want to inflict their current majority views on those who feel otherwise. But I’d like to propose a third idea: that it is because Catholics value the idea marriage so highly that they don’t want to deny it to those who want to embrace it.

It’s important to recognize that in the Catholic thought-world, marriage is the most potent of terms for describing relationships other than the conjugal union of one man and one woman. A bishop has for centuries been considered to be “married” to his diocese. And religious women wear rings to signify their marriage to Christ. What “marriage” signifies in the Catholic imagination, in other words, is the most powerful of spiritual bonds. Under the circumstances, it’s just plain obvious that that two people who want to commit themselves to each other, regardless of gender, should be married, isn’t it?

  • I found the thought provocative as well. Quite the power you have here with your blog to get two of the most well-known religion reporters to take up the idea!

  • mike

    Another item to correlate is the degree to which a respondent is actually a practicing Catholic. This has been done through church attendance rates and so forth. I have seen some studies that pull out these numbers and we find that even though New England has a high number of self identified Catholics, the degree to which the hold the faith is a different story. The numbers of “cultural Catholics” are legion in New England as are “cultural Jews” or “cultural X’s”. It is very difficult to lump together all self identified Catholics as being “Catholic”.

  • Mark Silk

    True–but you can’t assume that only “cultural Catholics differ with what the hierarchy teaches. Consider Catholic views on the death penalty, for example.

  • Ohio Joe

    I have another theory of why this is: Family is extremely important to Catholics, even extended family. Most Catholics I know tend to keep in frequent touch with their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. We travel back long distances to attend family get-togethers, baptisms, weddings, first communions, etc. This is in stark contrast to so many non-Catholics I know who haven’t spoken to their parents or siblings for years and have never met their cousins. (I have always found this kind of shocking, personally).
    It is well demonstrated that in previous polls and studies that people who know or are related to somebody gay or lesbian will be more supportive of gay rights. People who are adamantly opposed to gay rights often respond in polls that they have never met anybody gay (at least they think they haven’t).
    I believe that more Catholics probably just realize that anti-gay laws are hurting somebody that they know personally and love. That makes the difference.

  • why there should be same sex marriage when different sex has been created?

  • KatieMurphy

    You bet that antigays laws are hurting catholic families. As more and more gays come out of the closet of shame and fear, we see the number of gays rising. A few years ago it was just under 6% in polls nationwide. Last year it was 7% females and 8% males. The true number is probably about 10% because some gay people are still too terrified to admit who they are, because of fear of being EXfamilied.
    As soon as the closet is totally broken – wwe’ll see that 10%, or possibly more number.
    And AmeriKKKa will change and become America.
    And the blight of discrimination and worse against gay people will for the most part die its long overdue death.
    And America will join eg Western Europe where only two countries don’t grant gay couples legal recognition, and Greece – one of the two is beginning to change as the Primate of the Greek Orthodox church recently said he’d support marriage for gay couples as long as the church is protected. Which of course it should be.