Does Acceptance of Gay Rights Mean We’re Becoming More Secular?

Earlier this month, the New York Times made the bold (and very true) claim that President Barack Obama‘s support among LGBT voters practically won him the election. Obama beat Gov. Mitt Romney three-to-one among the 5% of voters who identify as LGBT, according to exit polls, constituting “more than enough to give him the ultimate advantage.”

The United States is undoubtedly shifting to become more gay-friendly — but does that mean the country is shifting toward the secular, too?

Adrian Tippetts of the National Secular Society seems to think there’s a link between them:

The demographics of diversity and declining religiosity will force the GOP to embrace inclusiveness or die. Pandering to a white evangelical base won’t work because the USA is becoming ethnically diverse at a fast pace: collectively, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities make a third of the population and growing; of the 0 to 18 age group, whites make up less than 50 percent.

Tippetts explains that the politicians who adamantly oppose marriage equality and other measures for LGBT rights (namely Romney and the motley crew of other Republican presidential hopefuls from earlier in the race) are the same people adhering to a strictly religious, often-evangelical perspective when it comes to social issues. (A longer version of his article can be read here.)

Essentially, the anti-gay crowd is the same as the pro-Creationism crowd, and they’re losing.

Fox News’ exit poll of religious voters sends a warning: weekly churchgoers favoured Romney 59–39, while occasional congregants went 55–43 for Obama. But the latter outnumber the former, and the gap is set to widen.

Perhaps the most shocking and uplifting statistic of all shows that even Christian voters are aligning with liberal viewpoints on social issues, further alienating the “traditional values” Republican Party (emphasis mine):

While Catholic priests and bishops broke the law by telling their followers how to vote from the pulpit, more than four out of five Catholic voters feel no obligation to heed their instruction at the ballot box (pdf). The same Fox survey shows that only 16 percent of Catholic voters think gay marriage is an important issue. And even among evangelicals, the one voting category to whom the Republicans have focused their efforts in appealing to, Obama’s share of the vote has actually risen, from 27 to 30 percent since 2008.

Given the absurdity of this campaign season and the ultimate outcome of the election, it seems obvious that we need a more secular America in the future — and in the next four years, we’re likely to get one. Only time (and strategists) will tell if the GOP will take the hint and loosen its grip on the evangelical rhetoric, but judging by this election’s results for LGBT people, Tippetts says, we might just be heading for smooth, secular sailing.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at

  • C Peterson

    What do you mean when you ask if we’re becoming more “secular”? The word is a bit ambiguous, as it can be used to mean both “non-religious” as well as “supportive of state/church separation”.

    Certainly, the country is becoming less religious, which is reflected in the growth of the “nones”. I suspect that much of this growth is driven by disgust with highly conservative social beliefs. In other words, I think this sort of secularization is actually driven by increased acceptance of gay rights, not the other way around.

    However, while this trend is initially driven by activists (using the term loosely), the social change eventually causes more widespread shifts, and we see that now in those who remain religious, but never had any real reason (other than custom) to have problems with homosexuality or gay rights. Those people can transition fairly easily into acceptance. And all that leaves is the minority of (mostly religious) zealots who were, and remain, actively opposed to gay rights.

  • dantresomi

    I don’t think it does. I find that more Christians just cut off another section of the Bible to ignore or join a church that is more inclusive or even worse, just ignore their preacher when they rail against gay marriage. People do it all the time. People are still part of churches that were instrumental in the Atlantic Slave Trade. 

  • Pedro Lemos

    Considering that “secular” means “not rellated to a religion” and that gay rights denial is basically sustented by religion views, yes, I´d say that acceptance of gay rights means US is becoming more secular.

    Unless someone shows me a reasonable reason to deny a gay person the same rights a straight person has, instead of religious ones.

  • Pedro Lemos

    I guess that´s what´s C Peterson meant when he said it depends of the meaning you give to “secular”. People may still be religious, but a secular state doesn´t mean it´s population is not religious, but that religious views don´t influence the government´s decisions and laws.
    In that way, I think supporting gay rights is helping turning US a secular state, since gay rights denial is basically supported by religious groups, like I said above. It doesn´t matter that there are more or less religious people, but the government stance in the scenario.

  • kenneth

    Gay rights advances are purely a matter of demographic realities. The anti-SSM folks had just enough supporters, by a razor thin margin, to hold the line for the past few years. Most of them are AARP age. Younger voters are simply not going to join their fight in any significant numbers. Gay marriage is just an absolute non-issue in the under 30 crowd. Even few of the young evangelicals show much interest in joining that culture war.  Moreover, the issue is losing its appeal even among the more practical minded social conservatives. These guys are seeing that it’s a losing investment politically and financially.  It may take years and court decisions to bring the rest of the states around, but it’s absolutely clear that no one is going to win a federal election by using gay marriage as a wedge issue/scare tactic anymore. The game, in the broad sense, is truly over. 

  • Matto the Hun

    I’d say not necessarily. I noticed at the ATL Pride parade there were more pro-LGBT churches in the parade than before. It seems to me that more and more churches/church goes are turning a blind-eye to the evil in their Bibles and accepting LGBT folk.

    I know that’s just my personal observations for my area, so take that for what it’s worth.

  • machintelligence

    Indeed, I think we have seen the high water mark for the political influence of the religious right. The most conservative are aging out of the electorate, and there is little recruitment of the younger set. Whether the Republicans will realize this, or be able to do something about it in 4 years, is an open question.

  • Anna

    The vast majority of people who have accepted gay rights still believe in a god. They’ve just decided that their god has nothing against homosexuality. Many people like this think that the Bible is a good moral guide and believe that people should follow it. Instead of viewing what the Bible has to say as irrelevant to gay rights, they still view it as an authority, they’ve just convinced themselves that it’s actually “mistaken” about homosexuality. They might be doing the right thing, but it’s for the wrong reason. My worry is that it would be so easy for them to switch back. And I can’t count that as becoming more secular. “Jesus loves gay people and wants them to have equal rights” isn’t secular. It’s just another flavor of Christianity.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    People were opposed to gay people in general for religious reasons. As those religions slip in the favor of the people, the reason for hating gay people slips away, too. And as it becomes more socially acceptable to have your own opinions, religious fanbase declines. It’s as simple as that.

  • One Man Damned

    Eh, I wouldn’t read too much into it.  There are plenty of verses in the Bible saying slavery is okay, but society deciding that slavery was immoral didn’t lead to a more secular society.  As society changed, believers just ignored those parts of the Bible condoning slavery and continued on as before.  There was no more slavery, but people still went to church and ignored or rationalized the mentions of slavery as best they could. 

    Now that society is evolving to accept homosexuals, that will soon be seen as normal, and believers will continue on like nothing has changed.  Not like any of them actually read their holy book or follow the things it says, anyway.

  • Sailor

    three-to-one among the 5% of voters who identify as LGBT
    What was that one thinking of?

  • Troels Jakobsen

    Personally I can’t wait to hear Christians begin to take credit for Christianity leading the fight against homophobia. Just like it did with slavery, interracial marriage, emancipation of women, tolerance of other faiths, etc. It’s amazing how progressive and tolerant Christianity has been through the ages, provided you disregard most of history.

  • jameshampton

    But African-Americans are the most Religious group in America yet the break heavily for Democrats.

  • Randy

    I would be wary of claiming LGBT voters won the election for Obama.  I suspect there are other groups who could make that claim by a similar analysis.  Further, LGBTs failure to shop around with other candidates (third parties, for example) poses a risk to legislative progress, because LGBT people can be taken for granted.  Democrats know most LGBT votes are virtually guaranteed.  So how could they win the election, if they’re guaranteed?  What’s encouraging is that we’ve expanded the number of people who call themselves our allies.  I’m not sure the data permits us to calculate it out, but I suspect these are the people who won the election for Obama, and for us.

    What I think the election does tell us is that Obama and Democrats generally have a loosely-connected, and ever-fragile coalition, but it continues to grow.  Yet taking any one group for granted could result in a catastrophic loss, particularly if the Republicans ever decide to abandon their phobia and paranoia, to run a real moderate.  Even now, about one in four or five LGBT votes went to Romney.  If they can vote for a man who is ready to write them out of the federal constitution, how many more would vote for a credible candidate?

  • TCC

    This is my own personal usage (so of course YMMV), but I generally use secular to mean “non-religious” and secularist to indicate support for church/state separation. In short: You don’t have to be secular to be a secularist.

    To the point, it’s conceivable to me that support for LGBT equality may be driving the increase in the Nones, but I’d really want to see more evidence. It could just be that LGBT support is a marker that is somewhat correlated with a decrease in religiosity in America.

  • TCC

    The problem is that even if a person abandons a religious argument against homosexuality, that doesn’t necessitate them abandoning religion altogether, which is what’s being argued here.

  • Robster

    The godbots expressed hate of same sex marriage and gay people in general has opened many eyes to the hate required of those that subscribe to the nonsense. I recon young people in particular are disgusted by the hate that flows endlessly from religious”‘leaders”. People are not naturally (in most cases) haters. People learn how to and what to hate, mainly from their religion. It’s easier to love and so much better. Hating requires an effort. Like september 11 opened eyes to the big negative effects of religious belief, hating will in the end, lead to organised religion dizzolving in sea of disinterest.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

     I believe you are correct.
    The judeo-christian religious leaders within a decade or two will be trying to say that they were the ones leading the charge for LGBT equality. Craziness!

    But…. in this “information age” where there is such immediate access to videos of so many major religions showing their bigotry, I think it is going to be MUCH tougher than ever for them to shake their history of bigotry.

  • chandler_in_lasvegas

    Secular? Considering that the Episcopal church and the Affirming section of the Lutheran Church have effectively incorporated the LGBT community, you should ask, “Is Fundamentalism the only Christian Sect remaining to embrace this community?”   There are  many religious gays. The secular argument is biased.

  • C Peterson

    Yeah, that’s the same terminology I try to use (although no doubt I slip sometimes).

    No disagreement on your comment- this is something where it’s difficult to disentangle cause and effect, and it’s even possible that both are causes and effects.

  • Deven Kale

     Even worse, they’ll be blaming the evil liberals, democrats, and non-religious folk for holding it back. Forget the fact that they’re the ones who’ve been fighting for it the entire time, they’ll cherry-pick (surprise!) a few of them that actually did try to hold it off and claim that all of them were acting that way. I’ve seen that exact tactic used even here numerous times in the past few months…

  • Deven Kale

     [citation needed]

  • Pedro Lemos

    A nation can be secular, with it´s inhabitants being religious. If by secular we mean the governments position about religion, not people´s beliefs.

  • ConureDelSol

    I feel as though I’ve been broadsided by Captain Obvious.

  • Anna

    Last I checked, the Episcopalians still do not perform full, equal marriage rites for same-sex couples, so I don’t think you should be patting yourselves on the back quite yet. Not to mention the split in the Episcopal church over the appointment of Gene Robinson as bishop.

    The fact remains that the vast majority of Christian denominations either do not accept homosexuality as moral, or do not treat same-sex couples equally in their churches. It’s not just the fundamentalists who have this problem. There are plenty of anti-gay Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians, not to mention the official stance of the Catholic church.

  • Erp

    The Episcopalians, not officially yet, though individual priests have been doing it for years.  MCC certainly does.  United Church of Christ has officially allowed it since 2005 (and it happened unofficially before).   Various Friends (aka Quakers) meetings have been supportive (some for decades) “Beacon Hill affirms that all couples, including those
    of the same sex, have equal opportunity to be married within the
    framework of the meeting process” (1988). 

  • Anna

    The Episcopalians still have a long way to go, through. An official “blessing” ceremony is not the same as holy matrimony. MCC is a gay church, so no surprise there. You’re right about the UCC and Quakers. Those are the only true progressives, but those groups are tiny compared to all the rest of the denominations in the country. The vast majority of Christian churches are either actively anti-gay, or else welcome same-sex couples but do not allow them equal access to holy matrimony. Official marriage, with full church wedding rites, is still restricted to a handful of churches.