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The Latino Catholic-Protestant Divide on Same-Sex Marriage

Jim Burroway

July 23rd, 2010

Why is the AFA’s Bryan Fischer so animated against Catholic Latino immigration? Well it turns out a new poll by Public Religion Research Institute was released today on “Religion, Proposition 8, and Same-Sex Marriage in California.” The poll examines the attitudes of various religious communities in California toward same-sex marriage. The must surprising finding was that Latinos overall were supportive of marriage equality (PDF: 397KB/26 pages):

There is a striking Catholic-Protestant divide within the California Latino community on public policy issues related to gay and lesbian rights.

  • A majority of Latino Catholics (57%) say they would vote to make same-sex marriage legal, compared to just 22% of Latino Protestants.
  • The Catholic-Protestant gap within the Latino community is evident across a range of gay and lesbian public policy issues.

This leaves the Latino community almost evenly divided on the issue, with 49% of Latinos regardless of religious affiliation supporting same-sex marriage, and 46% opposed. (Note: I have not been able to determine the margins of error for these smaller subsamples.) But Latinos overall appear more likely to shift toward a more pro-gay position, with 31% of Catholic Latinos and 25% of Protestant Latinos saying they have become more supportive, vs. 22% of White Californians saying the same thing. Only 9% of Catholic Latinos and 15% of Protestant Latinos report having become less supportive.

One interesting finding is in who Californians trust as sources of information about homosexuality:

  • White evangelical Protestants, Latino Protestants, and black Protestants all ranked their own clergy leaders as the most trusted source of information about homosexuality.
  • Both white and Latino Catholics say they trust the parents of gay or lesbian children more than their own clergy as a source of information about homosexuality.

Joseph M. Palacios, Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, cites three likely reasons for these findings:

Family First: Latino Catholics orient their social lives around the family and extended family even in the context of high Latino single-parent households (estimated 33% of all U.S. Latino households; 36% of all Latino Children in California live in single-parent households). Family solidarity is strong and even though children may not follow “traditional family values” as projected by the church and the U.S. society, parents want to keep their children within the family. It is not surprising that Catholics in general and Latino Catholics in particular, as the Public Religion Research study shows, see that parents learn about gay issues from their children. Their moral and ethical judgments are primarily made through this social reality rather than abstract pronouncements from their church leaders.

Catholic Communal versus Protestant Individual Faith: Catholicism is a communal faith that highlights the life cycle process through the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, and marriage. Families experience their moral lives through communal participation in the sacraments, as well as the Latino community’s cultural observances of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Posadas, Dia de los Muertos, etc. Protestant Latinos, on the other hand, have a faith that is individually driven through faith conversion (“accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior”) that often separates a person from the Catholic sacramental life cycle process and the social fabric of the Catholic-based cultural celebrations. …

Latino Catholic Tolerance versus Protestant Fundamentalist Judgment:Catholics allow complexity and ambiguity in moral decision-making since Catholicism is neither fundamentalist nor literalist regarding the Bible. Rather, Catholics can weigh factors such as the Bible, church teaching, and social reality affecting decision-making. Latino Catholics in the United States live in this social context that allows the free exercise of conscience rather than enforced scriptural fundamentalism or bishops’ and pastors’ exhortations in making decisions regarding homosexuality and gay rights– as is often exercised in Protestant fundamentalist and evangelical denominations and now by increasingly doctrinaire Catholic bishops. Further, as noted in the study, Catholic priests rarely mention homosexuality or gay issues in sermons except when forced to by the bishops as happened during the Prop 8 campaign.

Palacios cites another possible factor: Latino Catholics’ centuries of historical experience with the Church dictating political policy. Many Latin-American revolutions were as much rebelions against heavy church influence as they were rebellions against Spanish rule. (And Spain, too, has finally shaken off the Franco-era’s close political collusion with the Church in state affairs.) Latino Catholics know, perhaps far better than others, the benefits of a strong church-state separation.



July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

One little correction: In the last paragraph, it should be the “Franco-era’s,” not “Francisco-era’s.”

This was an interesting post, especially the part about the differences between Catholic and Protestant Latinos. Having come from an Irish Catholic family, I can say that a tolerance for ambiguity and a social life centered around family, in a way that could lead to greater support for GBLT rights, isn’t limited to Latino Catholics.

Jim Burroway
July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

My brain said Franco but I guess my heart was in San Francisco. Corrected.

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

As a non-Catholic looking purely from the outside, I see two very distinct types of Catholics.

The ones who are my neighbors – whether Latino or Filipino tend to be the type discussed here. They tend to be Catholic in a communal way and are very non-judgmental and socially accepting.

But then there are those who are like Maggie Gallagher or my friend Mikey’s parents (who spend their vacations protesting abortion clinics) or the Pope. These folk seem to have an entirely different religion from the Catholics that I see in Southern California.

July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

It’s a better place for your heart to be ;)

July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

As a Latino raised Catholic and observing my immediate and extended family’s reaction I’d have to say those reasons are dead on. Protestant Latinos tend to be the “born again” simple minded obsessive sort (mostly suckered in by missionaries and whatnot), whereas Catholics see it more as part of their cultural heritage and a ritual practice rather than something that dictates every part of their lives and all of their thoughts. Family comes first and priests are treated with skepticism and seen as lacking real world experience with families and relationships and thus aren’t worth listening to when it comes to these things.

Richard Rush
July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Burr, although I was not raised Catholic, your assessment of Catholics is entirely consistent with my anecdotal observations. The pronouncements emanating from the top of the Vatican just seem to lose steam as they filter down through the power structure to the priests and nuns who seem like little more than employees. There is a Catholic TV station here, and its most memorable characteristic is that it is b-o-r-i-n-g. The most amazing thing is that every night they play a video of nuns saying the rosary, and they show zero enthusiasm while looking like they are nodding off and will fall off their seats. It’s truly fascinating.

On the evangelical Protestant side are charismatic preachers “on fire for God power” who know how to whip people into a frenzy. And these preachers are often entrepreneurial religious businessmen, not just employees of an organization with its corporate headquarters thousands of miles away.

July 23rd, 2010 | LINK

The issue is clearly about religion and not about some innate characteristic in any one group that makes them disapprove of equality in marriage.

Maybe now the vitriol demonizing Latinos will end and people will target the real problem. Religion.

Chris McCoy
July 25th, 2010 | LINK

Burr said

Protestant Latinos tend to be the “born again” simple minded obsessive sort (mostly suckered in by missionaries and whatnot)

My observation is that converts to a particular religion that tend to be the most literal, the most fundamental, and the most zealous. They are the most likely to attack other people, even in their own new-found religion, for not being “true believers” or “holy enough”.

These newer (relatively) evangelical sects rely on the energetic zeal of new converts to “keep the faith alive” – but that zeal has a price – one-up-manship, holier-than-thou fundamentalism.

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