The Nonreligious keep leading America’s trending approval of Same-Sex Marriage

Religious prejudice against non-hetero citizens has been gradually subsiding, still potent yet destined for marginality. Regrettably, religious tolerance today still hasn’t risen to the level that nonreligious attitudes had attained over a decade ago. Following nonreligious trends is still the right direction for the country.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a new survey of Americans in February, asking about people’s religious status and their attitudes concerning LGBT issues. 53% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, and 41% state their opposition (in 2003, 59% of Americans were opposed).

Along with the portion of Jewish Americans who are fairly secular, the nonreligious segment of Americans unaffiliated with any denomination are much less opposed to same-sex marriage, just as they were a decade ago. PRRI states that two of the most supportive groups are religiously unaffiliated Americans (73%) and Jewish Americans (83%), two groups that include many secular people.

Looking into the data, according to PPRI, 22% of Americans are ‘unaffiliated’ with any religion, unwilling to identify with an organized religion. These “Nones,” as they are labeled, is a group that continues to gradually expand, along with the growing sub-segment of atheists.  Their approval of same-sex marriage, and acceptance of people regardless of hetero status, continues to grow as well. The PRRI report says,

“Religiously unaffiliated Americans (73%), white mainline Protestants (62%), white Catholics (58%), and Hispanic Catholics (56%) all favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.”

Looking back to survey results from 2003, the report lends some historical context:

“In 2003, the issue of same-sex marriage divided Americans between the religious and the non-religious. While nearly two-thirds (65%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favored allowing gay and lesbian people to legally marry, all major religious groups were strongly opposed. In 2003, fewer than 4-in-10 white mainline Protestants (36%), Catholics (35%), black Protestants (23%), and white evangelical Protestants (12%) supported same-sex marriage.”

The most tolerant group, white mainline Protestants, stand at 62% approval today, still a couple of points behind the unaffiliated in 2003. The report continues,

“During the last decade, support for same-sex marriage has risen 22 percentage points among Catholics (from 35% to 57%), and 26 percentage points among white mainline Protestants (from 36% to 62%). … Among white evangelical Protestants, support for same-sex marriage has risen only 15 points (from 12% to 27%), and among black Protestants, support has risen just 12 points (from 23% to 35%). Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) white evangelical Protestants and nearly 6-in-10 (59%) black Protestants remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Hispanic Protestants are divided; 46% favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry and 49% oppose.”

Demographics is destiny, as the saying goes – where are young Americans trending? PRRI says that “nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Millennials (ages 18 to 33) favor same-sex marriage.” Many of those Millennials have left organized religion, and values are a big part of that migration into the Nones, swelling that group’s numbers. Into the future, if this trend continues, religious denominations will continue to shrink while their intolerance gets sustained by those willing to remain in the pews. It would be a mistake to presume that more tolerant people are the only ones leaving organized religion. A large and growing sub-group of the Nones consists of people disenchanted with houses of worship for many other reasons but they are still personally religious, and their values apparently haven’t changed much.

PRRI has tracked one striking example about these religious Nones – many of these religious Nones remain opposed to same-sex marriage. It reports how 26% of the unaffiliated agreed that same-sex goes against their religious beliefs, up from 18% in 2003. However, among the Nones who don’t hold religious beliefs anymore, these nonreligious Nones are leading the way, along with Jewish Americans.

Demographics lends itself to making predictions. Where might these trends, among the religiously affiliated and the nonaffiliated, be headed after another ten years have passed? One trend seem secure: that loose ‘group’ of Nones will continue to become more diverse, and perhaps less predictable.

 

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About John Shook

John R. Shook, PhD, is a scholar and professor living in the Washington, D.C. area. He is research associate in philosophy and instructor in science education for the University at Buffalo. He is also President of Partners for Secular Activism, an educational nonprofit offering online classes of interest to the secular side of life at secularactivism.org. Click the About tab under the header to learn more about John.


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