Race, religion, Maryland and gay marriage

Time for a quick flashback into the tmatt GetReligion folder of guilt. That’s the cyber-folder of mainstream news stories that I really want to dissect, but then other big stories come along that demand immediate attention and then, well, you know, the folder gets thicker and thicker. Sigh.

This particular Washington Post story caught my attention for several reasons — some positive and a few negative.

The lede is a classic, “Well, DUH!” moment that slipped into print.

Half of Maryland residents now favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, but support varies significantly along the sensitive lines of race, religion and age, a Washington Post poll has found.

Like I said, “Well, DUH.” Raise your hand if you are not surprised that race and religion factor into beliefs on this hot-button issue.

Actually, I has surprised me that the liberal Catholic-secular coalition that runs my state has struggled as much as it has to get this matter through the legislature. When you consider how liberal a state Maryland is, that mere 50 percent support number is downright shocking. There must be a complex story in there, somewhere.

That brings us to the heart of this report, which is presented with great simplicity and clarity.

The new poll found a sharp divide among Maryland Democrats based on race. Among whites, 71 percent support same-sex marriage, while 24 percent do not. Among blacks, 41 percent are supportive, while 53 percent are opposed. Maryland has the largest percentage of African Americans of any state outside of the Deep South.

In addition to race, religion also factors into this fight in a major way. That’s where this Post report is severely lacking in basic facts. Let’s look at a few of them.

Several hundred people, including some ministers and lawmakers, convened … in a rally outside the State House in Annapolis to make clear they still oppose legislation that narrowly passed the Senate last year but fell short in the House of Delegates.

In advance of a Senate hearing on the bill, gay-rights supporters are planning a news conference … with clergy members to show the measure has religious support in the 90-day legislative session.

What is missing?

Well, why are these two paragraphs so vague? Both lack any detail when it comes to which religious groups are backing gay rights and which ones are opposed. This information is especially important — of course — on the African-American side of the debate. Readers need to know who is lined up on both sides. Without those basic facts, this part of the story is next to meaningless.

My prediction is that the state’s larger religious bodies are against the measure and its smaller, declining flocks are lined up with the Democratic leadership. Why do I say that?

The poll found that nearly three-quarters of those opposed to gay nuptials say their views stem primarily from their religious beliefs — a factor that makes lobbying on the issue more challenging.

By contrast, only 5 percent of same-sex marriage supporters say their views are largely shaped by religious beliefs. … The poll also found that those who attend religious services weekly are nearly three times as likely to oppose same-sex marriage as those who do not attend at all.

Read that again. That 5 percent number is a testament to several changing factors in American life, especially the rising number of people who are openly secular and/or “spiritual, not religious.” It also shows just how small the world of liberal Protestantism has become, in terms of bodies in pews — even in Maryland, a highly progressive state.

One more point: The next time a GetReligion commentator argues that subjects such as abortion and gay-marriage are simply political controversies, as opposed to being topics that remain linked to religious doctrine and practice in the lives of millions, just think about this Post story.

Then you can join me in saying: Well, DUH.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Dave

    The next time a GetReligion commentator argues that subjects such as abortion and gay-marriage are simply political controversies, as opposed to being topics that remain linked to religious doctrine and practice in the lives of millions, just think about this Post story

    That is not the argument that is made by at least this critic, Terry. It is that GR does not do a good job, when it goes off on such a story, of showing a failure of the press to get religion.

    In the present instance, the interesting fact is that as much as 5% of the marriage equity supporters base their position on religion. who are they?

  • Passing By

    To be honest, the race connection is a surprise. Most of the African-American folks I know are pretty tolerant of gays, although that might not translate into support for same-sex marriage. Considering it’s the Post, I ‘m amazed at the even-handed treatment if the subject.

    Interesting that the poll is of Democrats. Are there Repulicans in Maryland? Independents? And did anyone make a non-religious case against same-sex marriage?

  • Stan

    My response to your posting, tmatt, is “Well, Duh!” Yes, most of the opposition to same-sex marriage nowadays is the result of religious opposition. The Roman Catholic and Mormon churches have donates hundreds of millions of dollars in the fight against marriage equality, and many Evangelical Churches have exhorted their followers to oppose same-sex marriage. So no surprise there.

    I don’t reach the same conclusion you do over the revelation that only 5% of support for same-sex marriage is based on religious belief. You see this as showing “just how small the world of liberal Protestantism has become, in terms of bodies in pews.” I don’t quite see how this fact leads to your conclusion.

    What it seems to say is that liberal churches simply have not been involved in the question of same-sex marriage as they should be. In fact, in most liberal denominations, the issue of marriage (as opposed to other gay rights) remains contentious.

    Perhaps the more interesting question is that why the largest religious demographic in favor of same-sex marriage is Roman Catholics, this despite the incredible amount of money the Church has spent in fighting against same-sex marriage.

  • Bain Wellington

    Stan, what’s the evidence that the largest religious demographic in favour of same-sex marriage is Roman Catholics? It is certainly not the WaPo poll the subject of this post.

    It’s off-topic, but a quick scan of online sources including The Bay Area Reporter suggests the Catholic Church (through the USCCB, the national conference of bishops) contributed $200,000 to the Prop 8 campaign, and that the Church affiliated (but independent) Knights of Columbus contributed $1.4m. Is that an incredible amount of money? Not by reference to total spend in favour of Prop 8 (Mormons accounted for 70% of it), and not by reference to the amount the Knights disburse annually on charitable causes – $154m in 2010 according to their website

    Of course, Prop 8 spend (and the US) isn’t the whole of the story, but it’s a good starting point for testing your claim that the Catholic Church spends “an incredible amount of money in fighting against same-sex marriage”.

  • Bain Wellington

    Two quick after-thoughts.

    Since this is a journalism site, it’s not asking too much to require comments to back up claims with at least some hard facts. In the post that follows this one, Mollie called out Deacon John Bresnahan to provide a link on a quite specific claim about Orthodox bishops. Vague allegations are a fortiori.

    And then there is the question of what “fighting against same-sex marriage” might mean. Since her foundation, the Catholic Church has always put the support of families at the heart of its moral and social teaching – long before anyone dreamt up the idea of same-sex “marriage”. The fact that the Church continues to manifest so fundamental an aspect of her teaching does not, on its own, amount to “fighting against same-sex marriage”. Expenditure on opposing legislative moves to recognise same-sex “marriage” is a reasonable limitation of the topic you raised.

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    I have a question about the money as well. I recall last week how the numbers totaling the amount of money spent advertising for the Florida primary was some large number, but this mystifies me. I don’t watch commercials (I love my DVR!), I immediately recycle every flyer for everybody that is delivered in my mailbox, so no candidate spending money on advertising is going to effect my opinion. Right before election day, I look up the candidates’ records and vote for the “least worst.” But I digress….

    Is money spent on a campaign the only way we have of measuring public opinion? The RIAA and other media conglomerates spent untold amounts of money pushing SOPA and its partner through Congress and they were stymied by the actions of many technology companies spreading the message through their websites and rallying public support against them. So, if measuring who spent what is an inaccurate appraisal of what majority opinions might be, why do we do it? Or is it the best of a group of bad measuring options (polls, anecdotal conversations, etc)?

  • sari

    And along this vein, here is the NYT’s article on today’s ruling on CA’s Prop 8. Note that religion is not mentioned at all, only the “unlikely pairing” of a Republican and a Democrat on the pro-Prop 8 legal team.