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Religion, Proposition 8, and Same-Sex Marriage in California

Sponsor: Religion Public Religion and Research Institute
Released: 2010-07

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As the state of California awaits U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s decision on whether Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, a new survey released today by Public Religion Research Institute examines the role religion plays in structuring attitudes toward same-sex marriage and a range of other issues related to rights for gay and lesbian people.

In 2008, pundits pointed to the influential role churches and religious groups played in Proposition 8′s outcome. The bilingual (Spanish and English) poll of 3,351 adults in California, including oversamples of 350 African Americans and 200 Latino Protestants, represents the most comprehensive portrait of religion and attitudes on same sex marriage and other gay and lesbian issues since Proposition 8 was approved.

Highlights

Only one-in-five (22%) Californians believe the passage of Proposition 8 was a “good thing” for the state. Most Californians believe Proposition 8 was either a bad thing for California (29%) or believe it has not made any difference (45%). If another vote similar to Proposition 8 were held tomorrow, a majority (51%) say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to 45% who say they would vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

There are major religious groups on both sides of the debate over same-sex marriage in California. Solid majorities of Latino Catholics and white mainline Protestants say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, while solid majorities of white evangelical Protestants, Latino Protestants, and African American Protestants say they would vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

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 allow gay and lesbian couple to marry, compared to just 22% of Latino Protestants. The Catholic-Protestant divide in the Latino community is evident across a wide range of public policy issues related to gay and lesbian rights.

The messages about homosexuality that Californians hear at their place of worship are correlated with their views on same-sex marriage. Among Californians who report hearing negative messages from their clergy, few (19%) support same-sex marriage. In striking contrast, among Californians who report hearing positive messages from their clergy, fully 6-in-10 say gay and lesbian people should be allowed to marry, an additional 22% support civil unions, and less than 1-in-5 (18%) say there should be no legal recognition for same-sex relationships.