Republican presidential candidates who are positioning themselves as social conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage will be speaking to an ever diminishing portion of the religious base, last week’s ABC News/Washington Post poll found. That’s because a majority of Americans — 53 percent — now support marriage equality (up from only 32 percent support in 2004), including 53 percent of white Catholics and 57 percent of nonevangelical Protestants. As CAP’s Sally Steenland observes, the public has finally “moved ahead of the religious institutions they belong to and the politicians who represent them”:
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. [...]
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.
A 2010 study by Brian Powell of Indiana University found that the GOP fixation on anti-LGBT initiatives may actually have expanded support for same-sex marriage by increasing the visibility of LGBT issues and making “a topic that seemed taboo a little bit less taboo.” “One of the fascinating things is that with all this discussion out there whether positive or negative, being able to say the words, just made people more comfortable,” he told me during an interview in September. “With all this discussion about same sex marriage…I think it made people more attuned to who there friends and relatives [are].”
So if Republicans focus on gay marriage during this election cycle, they won’t just be talking to a smaller group of voters. They’ll also be helping a growing number of Americans come out in favor of marriage equality.