Some good news on the heels of the marriage equality defeat in the Maryland state legislature: A majority of Americans—53 percent—now support marriage equality according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. That’s up from only 32 percent support in 2004.
Some of the biggest gains in support have come from religious Americans. Sixty-three percent of white Catholics now support marriage equality, up from just 40 percent in 2004. White Protestants also show major shifts—57 percent of nonevangelical Protestants support marriage equality, up from 2004 when only 41 percent showed support.
It’s true that white evangelicals remain widely opposed—only 25 percent support marriage equality. But even that number is an 11 percent increase from 2004, when only 14 percent showed support.
These numbers demonstrate that the public has moved ahead of the religious institutions they belong to and the politicians who represent them. Those in the pews are expressing a lived reality that is dynamic and complex. More and more, people have openly gay and lesbian friends, co-workers, and family members. They have neighbors who live in committed same-sex unions. When real people bump up against religious ideology, most often it’s the ideology that breaks and gets swept away.
But that’s not the only reason religious people are increasingly supportive of marriage equality. Many faith communities are working hard to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people into their congregations and stand up for LGBT moral equality. From study groups that wrestle with sacred texts to prophetic witnessing for nondiscrimination policies, religious institutions are increasingly including LGBT issues as part of their justice mission and seeing LGBT people as reflecting the image of God just as they are.
The growing acceptance of equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans among religious groups is recounted in a recent book, American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. Religious support for homosexuality is growing in measurable ways according to the book, especially among younger Americans. More and more, religious views on same-sex marriage across all ages are starting to resemble secular views.
This is not to say that all battles for LGBT equality have been won. Quite the contrary. House Speaker John Boehner has taken it upon himself (on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives) to defend the Defense of Marriage Act after the Obama administration dropped support of the law last month. A coalition of religious groups supported Boehner’s defense, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, and others.
But surely these groups must feel the winds of history blowing against them. Surely they sense their own people pulling away, not because they lack religious belief but because they are living their faith in a vibrant way, showing once again that the long arc of history bends toward justice.
Sally Steenland is Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at American Progress.