Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
The March PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey showed that a slim majority (52%) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while 44% are opposed. There are large gaps on this issue by age, gender, party affiliation, and religious affiliation. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Millennials (age 18-29) support same-sex marriage, compared to only one-third (33%) of seniors.
There are religious groups on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Strong majorities of Jews (81%) and the religiously unaffiliated (77%) support same-sex marriage, in addition to nearly 6-in-10 (59%) Catholics and a solid majority (56%) of white mainline Protestants. Minority Christians are more divided, with 50% opposed to same-sex marriage and 43% in favor. White evangelical Protestants are strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, with over three-quarters (77%) in opposition to allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally.
Women are significantly more likely than men to support same-sex marriage. A solid majority (58%) of women favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while fewer than 4-in-10 (37%) are opposed. Men are more divided (45% in favor, 49% opposed).
Majorities of Democrats (64%) and Independents (55%) support legalizing same-sex marriage. Republicans, by contrast, are strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, with 33% in favor and 62% opposed.
There are some racial differences on this issue. A slim majority (53%) of white Americans favor same-sex marriage, while 43% remain opposed. By contrast, a slim majority (51%) of black Americans oppose same-sex marriage, while 45% support it.
Public support for same-sex marriage has steadily increased over the past five years. In January 2006, support hovered around 40%. In early 2011, several public opinion research organizations, including Public Religion Research Institute, found majority support for same-sex marriage.
Source: Public Religion Research Institute, PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, March 2012 (N=1,007)