US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Abortion and same-sex marriage part ways

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The two social issues that have gone hand-in-hand over the past several election cycles are going their separate ways, says a new and intriguing study released today by the Public Religion Research Institute. Same-gender marriage has seen an incredible leap in support since 1999, from 35 percent to 53 percent, fueled mostly by acceptance among millienals (18 to 29 year olds), who support it by 57 percent versus 32 for their boomer counterparts (50 to 64). (Researchers didn't include my generation X cohort, 30 to 49, which supported same-gender marriage at 42 percent).

Millenials, on the other hand, track their parents when it comes to abortion, with 60 percent believing it should be legal in all or most cases, versus 59 percent of Xers and 58 percent of boomers. They do, however, seem more conflicted about the morality of abortion, with half saying abortion is morally wrong, compared to 54 percent of Xers and 51 percent of boomers. Millenials, however, have fairly negative associations with abortion but positive ones with same-gender marriage. Perhaps most strange of all is that lots of Americans identify themselves as both pro-life and pro-choice.

I actually don't find any of this suprising; even Jim Daly of Focus on the Family acknowledges that, at least on the demographic level, opposition to legal same-gender marriage is a lost cause--though since millenials don't vote in their full strength, I think it could be a while before their will we be felt in Congress.

Abortion is a trickier question: Majorities of millenials, Xers, and boomers, and majorities of every religious group except white evangelical Protestants think abortion should be available in their area (Catholics included). They may have moral qualms about abortion, but they don't think the law should prevent anyone from having one in most circumstances.

Apropos of Meg's post on Roe v. Wade, I think this is an argument for a "hearts and minds" approach on abortion, rather than a legal one. Sounds like there's a chance to convince millenials who might have an abortion not to do it for moral reasons, but you're less likely to convince them that it should be illegal or otherwise unavailable.

The study also reveals the loosening grip of religious institutions on their members. More than 7 in 10 "religious Americans" surveyed said it was possible to remain a member of your church in good standing; that includes majorities of Catholics and white evangelicals.