The Catholic Church’s significant impact on marriage opinion

Timothy Kincaid

July 29th, 2011

The Washington Post has a new opinion poll out which indicates that support for marriage equality in New York continues to be greater than opposition. Politico provides some analysis on the demographic breakdowns.

Of particular interest are the responses of Catholics. The Catholic Church (and its quasi-secular adjunct, The National Organization for Marriage) was the primary voice of opposition to legal marriage rights. Bishops loudly (and sometimes rather nastily) denounced efforts to recognize same-sex couples and sought to mobilize the Roman Catholic Church’s large membership in response.

So I was interested in discovering if the Church and its teaching had any impact on the political position of the Catholic New Yorkers. And it does appear as though the Church’s teaching has significantly impacted its parishioners’ views on the subject.

Catholics are broadly supportive of the measure, with nearly 60 percent saying they view the new law favorably, although support drops off among those who attend church less frequently.

So those who go to mass more often support marriage even more? Well, preach on, Padre.

UPDATE: Alas, sad news. Politico made a typo (drat them) and it turns out that the churchy Catholics are actually less supportive of equality (48%) than the stay-at-home variety (66%).

And I also got the poll population wrong. It asked a question about the New York marriage law in addition to the more general support question and my brain evidently started the weekend before me. (thanks, Matt, for the corrections.)


July 29th, 2011

Mr. Kincaid,

I think the site you linked got a couple things wrong about the poll. It’s a national poll, asking Americans from all over to react to New York’s law — not a poll only of New Yorkers. Also, they messed up the wording when describing the results for Catholics — those who attend weekly are less supportive, not more supportive (in other words, it’s what you would expect, not counter-intuitive.)

Here’s my source, which includes a clip of the results broken down by category:

Still – Catholics who attend weekly are evenly split. (Those who attend less than that are very supportive.) Not bad!


July 29th, 2011

This aligns with my experiences living in New Mexico, a state with a high population of Hispanic Catholics (e.g.), and the only state (I believe) that has neither marriage equality, civil unions nor some form of state DOMA (not to mention among the earliest states to repeal sodomy laws and include both sexual orientation and gender identity in our discrimination laws). My friends and I have discussed many times how, anecdotally, the relatively high Catholic:Protestant (especially Evangelical) ratio here seems to be a big reason DOMA won’t fly.

Jim Burroway

July 29th, 2011

It’s that last finding — that Catholics who attend weekly are evenly split — that I find most encouraging. What’s more, it rings pretty true to me from the days when I used to be a practicing Catholic. And I used to attend a somewhat conservative Catholic parish before tumbling out of the closet.

Timothy Kincaid

July 29th, 2011

One of my biggest objections to religious involvement in politics isn’t based on the separation of church and state. It goes to something even more basic.

You stood up at your pulpit and made your case. And even though you presented as divine and without rebuttal you couldn’t convince society. They chose to stay home or go to another church or even sit right there in front of you and still reject your doctrine.

What kind of morality is it that would then justify forcing people to live by doctrine that you couldn’t convince them of?

What kind of god works that way?

Ben In Oakland

July 29th, 2011

What kind of god works that way?

Why, the Great, the Powerful, the Stupendous Hippo Cretina, God of the Homobigots and Divine Author of the truly Stupid.

Nah, all funnin’ aside, that’s how Christianity of a certain variety works. Belive in Me or burn in hell for ever. What, you didn’t get the christian Memo? you’re only 3 years old? Your great grandfather ate the last missionary?

Too bad I didn’t convince you. so now i’ll just have to SHOW you.

David C.

July 29th, 2011

What kind of morality is it that would then justify forcing people to live by doctrine that you couldn’t convince them of?

What kind of god works that way?—Timothy Kincaid

None and none—only people that behave like that would, the kind that create gods in the first place.


July 30th, 2011

48% is alot considering the church’s stance…

I don’t… umm… why are people able to stay “catholics” if they dont believe the catholic teachings?
Isn’t that like not believing Jesus rose from the dead and saying your a christian?? …

A friend of mine says shes a catholic but she neither practices most of what the catholic doctrine teaches nor does she agree/believe the churchs practices or stances like this issue.
That’s like saying a man saying hes gay but not being attracted to men. *shrug

Maybe we can just define Catholic as such:
catholic – a self-prescribed label that is independent of believing in the Catholic Doctrine.

Priya Lynn

July 30th, 2011

Joel said “I don’t… umm… why are people able to stay “catholics” if they dont believe the catholic teachings?
…A friend of mine says shes a catholic but she neither practices most of what the catholic doctrine teaches nor does she agree/believe the churchs practices or stances like this issue.”.

It has to do with culture, tradition and ancestry. I called myself a Catholic for many years after I had started totally disregarding religion. Its because I was baptised a catholic, had attended a catholic church, and my parents were catholic (I was catholic in the same way I was german – I “inherited” it.). You might say we consider ourselves’ catholic on technicalities. Being catholic didn’t entail having catholic beliefs any more than being of german ancestry entailed behaving like a german.


July 30th, 2011

In America, at least, the Catholic hierarchy regularly makes thunderous pronouncements of dogma, particularly regarding sexuality, and is cheerfully ignored by the laity.

I think that in general, it’s a case of the belief being in the basic tenets of the faith, not in the institution. I think that holds true for many Protestants as well — perhaps even more so, since one of the foundational concepts of Protestantism is that everyone has a direct link to God and has no need of a priesthood.

So the survey results from Catholics don’t really surprise me all that much. I tend to doubt that most Catholics believe that condemnation of homosexuality is central to their faith.

As for the morality of forcing people to live by a creed you can’t convince them to accept, it’s already quite clear that the Church’s concept of morality is, at best, rudimentary, and mostly concerned with covering its own butt. (And do remember that Charlemagne gave the Saxons a choice: convert or die. The Church hasn’t changed all that much in the last 1200 years.)

Priya Lynn

July 30th, 2011

Hunter said “As for the morality of forcing people to live by a creed you can’t convince them to accept…”.

What about the morality of threatening people with eternal torture if they don’t believe in you? That is much more immoral.


July 30th, 2011

I am an Irish-Catholic and though I left the church long ago and consider myself agnostic/atheist I will always be Catholic. It’s cultural, like being Jewish. My ancestors fought – and some died – to practice their faith & then faced significant prejudice in this country. I think it is that sense of community that keeps many of us in the “Catholic” fold.


July 30th, 2011

Sure, definitions of what entails being a Catholic can be dismissed through the lenses of cultural ambiguity or the sense that as long as its not central it can be ignored or with tradition or with ancestry or with any combination of the above or of anything else. But then a catholic adjective can mean endless varying things and in its vague definition ultimately not mean anything.

Unlike being of X nationality which undoubtedly at least means you were either born there or are a citizen, being a catholic really means nothing in and of itself.

Sure we can define things arbitrarily, but when census like these come about, a catholic really just means that people who believe in -whatever-(for a precise definition) where questioned, in which the only conclusion one can make is anything or, more neutrally, nothing.


July 31st, 2011

Priya Lynn — I was quoting Timothy Kincaid’s comment above (hence my comment about Charlemagne), and the whole point of that segment of my comment was that the Church’s concept of morality is fairly primitive, since it tends to ignore those teachings of Christ that do, indeed, present a solid basis for real morality.

As for the threat of eternal hellfire, the basic mechanism of Christianity is the threat of punishment, stemming from the foundational idea that people are by nature evil. Hierarchies work on fear — that’s the only way they can maintain their authority, and Christianity is all about authority.

I never said I recognized that as moral.

Priya Lynn

July 31st, 2011

Hunter said “Priya Lynn — I was quoting Timothy Kincaid’s comment above (hence my comment about Charlemagne)…”.

Yes, I knew that.

Hunter said “I never said I recognized that as moral.”.

I didn’t mean to imply that you did.

Timothy Kincaid

August 1st, 2011

Catholicism has a looooong history of dissent. Martin Luther was a devout Catholic priest through most of his dissenting writings until he was eventually excommunicated.

Joel, you appear to be setting a standard of conformity that we don’t use for pretty much anything. Political parties, national attitudes, sporting team support, school affiliation, these all have people (some prominent within the organization) that dissent on some issues that others think are integral. But still you can be a Republican that supports marriage equality, a Dodger fan that actually likes the McCourts, or an Amish woman with a love of color. Few intelligent people are 100% in conformity with the stated positions of most groups.

And religion is a matter of pondering, a matter of wondering, and Catholicism is steeped in research, thought, and quibbling. With a church that large, its no surprise that most Catholics differ with the Vatican on some thing or other.

Timothy Kincaid

August 1st, 2011


Those of Spanish Jewish descent might suggest that you don’t have to go all the way back to Charlemagne. Depending on the tribe and the priest, some California Indian tribes might nod in agreement as well.

It is, of course, some better… and I choose to believe that this is because of developed morality rather than the Church’s loss of power… but I don’t want to inspect that assumption too closely.


August 1st, 2011

Joel, you ask “I don’t… umm… why are people able to stay “catholics” if they dont believe the catholic teachings?”

But I don’t know that it’s really possible for a non-Catholic watching American discussions of “how religion works” to really understand being Catholic.

Because it really isn’t so much about the teachings as such as it is about the lived experience, and quite honestly, the lived experience doesn’t have a lot to do with condemnations of homosexuality or birth control or whatever else the hierarchy is blathering on about.

The media covers Rome and whatever the local Archbishop has to say so much that it’s nearly impossible for a non-Catholic to understand how little most of any of that matters to a butt-in-the-pew Catholic. Most of them couldn’t tell you the name of their Bishop, much less what the latest encyclical had to say about anything.

And most American’s pictures of church services involve a little music and then a pastor ranting on and on about some Bibilcal selection, where the Catholic Mass is a set ritual that repeats on a fixed schedule – the individual priest has no say in what this weeks Bible readings are, and the sermon is usually a short talk loosely based on those readings rather than a political diatribe from the pulpit.

It may not be the same today – it’s been well over a decade and a half since I got pitched out when I came out, but in nearly 35 years of weekly Mass attendance, I never once heard homosexuality even mentioned from the pulpit, much less condemned. Nor birth control, for that matter. A lot of talking up of family and children and so on, but none of the hellfire and brimstone people talk about. I won’t pretend I wasn’t crystal clear that the Church flat-out condemned me, but that wasn’t a feature or daily or weekly Mass.

And of course, most Catholics are not blind to the high percentage of flaming queens they have in the priesthood – most of whom are hardworking and decent, and never touched a child in their lives, no matter what they get up to with each other at the rectory.

And, science has shown that the more kids you have, the more likely they will be gay – and the Church is still encouraging Catholics to have large families – resulting in a documented higher percentage of gay people in their immediate families – the single biggest indicator of pro-gay sentiment. When it comes to a choice between their own family member and some shriveled and bitter old guy ranting about gays, they’ll side with their own family more and more. Especially now that being gay is not an automatic guarantee your parents won’t get grandkids out of you.


August 1st, 2011

I was raised Catholic. Complete with incense, candles and abundant ritual. All the aforementioned dig deep into the psyche. To the point where I love visiting cathedrals and the faintest wisp of church incense invokes tears and longing.

Go figure.

It’s powerful stuff, and I understand ‘their’ conviction. As I as also understand why my mom and dad used birth control…as devote Catholics.

Go figure.

I guess the message is, they’re not all stupid.

I pray it stays that way. And I pray it gets better…

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