HRC Blog

The Marriage Equality Perception Gap

Post submitted by Diane Martin, HRC Religion and Faith Assistant

Last week the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released the most comprehensive survey to date examining the dramatic shift in American attitudes about same-sex marriage and LGBT issues over the past decade.  The survey, “A Shifting Landscape,” reveals that since 2003, there has been a 21 point jump in American support for same-sex marriage, with 53% of Americans now supporting marriage equality—demonstrating a consistently linear progression that is rarely seen in public opinion trends. 

However, according to the PRRI survey, American perception has not caught up to this statistical reality. Most polls since 2012 have shown a majority of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, yet only about one-third of the public believe that most Americans favor same-sex marriage.  This gap between perception and reality is particularly pronounced when it comes to American faith communities.

Nearly 60% of white mainline Protestants believe their peers oppose marriage equality, but the PRRI survey reveals that opposition clocks in at just 36%. The same is true among Catholics. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics believe their fellow churchgoers reject same-sex marriage, but in actuality 50% of Catholics who regularly attend church favor allowing same-sex marriage and only 45% oppose it. 

But public perception does not always lag behind reality when it comes to LGBT issues in America.  In some instances, such as with employment discrimination laws, the American public believes that we have progressed much further than we actually have.  According to the PRRI survey, majorities of both political parties and every major religious group support work-place nondiscrimination laws for gay and lesbian people, and 75% incorrectly believe that such federal protections already exist.

As LGBT people of faith and as friends, family members, and allies, we must work to close this gap between perception and reality and dispel the false narrative of homophobia that runs through our faith communities.  By coming out in our faith communities as supporters of LGBT rights, we are inviting more people to join in the conversation and to move forward in the progress towards equality.

Many thanks to the authors of the survey— Robert P. Jones, Daniel Cox and Juhem Navarro-Rivera for providing us with such a rich examination of the changing attitudes about LGBT issues in America.  

HRC’s Religion and Faith Program seeks to engage all faith traditions in a deeper dialogue on questions of fairness and equality for LGBT Americans. For more resources from HRC’s Religion and Faith program, visit http://www.hrc.org/issues/religion-faith.

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