Thursday, 27 May 2010

Some social trends in America

I noticed the following from Gallup: “Americans' support for the moral acceptability of gay and lesbian relations crossed the symbolic 50% threshold in 2010. At the same time, the percentage calling these relations "morally wrong" dropped to 43%, the lowest in Gallup's decade-long trend.”

2001-2010 Trend: Perceived Moral Acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations

What really intrigued me was the findings with regard to religious affiliation (at the bottom of this table).

Percentage Calling Gay/Lesbian Relations Morally Acceptable, by Politics, Religion

Four years ago, the views of Catholics were somewhat less traditional than those of Protestants, with 46% of Catholics saying that homosexual relations were morally acceptable, while only 36% of Protestants said so.

Now, however, the views of Catholics are a lot less traditional than those of Protestants - with 62% saying that such relations were morally acceptable as opposed to only 42% of Protestants.

It’s interesting that Catholics were less traditional in than Protestants in their views four years ago. But the change in outlook in the past four years is even more fascinating. Why the wholesale flight from traditional views among American Catholics over the past four years? Apart from the possibility that the poll is just wrong, the only explanation I can think of is that it is fallout from the publicity about child abuse in the Catholic church. But that's just a guess.

9 comments:

indigomyth said...

Another perspective - perhaps people are looking at it from a morally "permissible" direction. So, rather than the poll showing an increased number of people thinking that homosexual relations are morally right, they are in fact saying that they are morally permissible - as in the state ought to permit homosexual relations. One could argue it is due to an increased disillusionment with government and state intrusion, rather than a large scale reversal of opinions regarding the actual morality of homosexual relations. This would be an explanation for the increase in positive responses from conservatives (I wonder if that was self determined, or if the poll taker is making a judgement?) and Republicans - being fed up of statism. After all, Ayn Rand was revolted by homosexual relations, but completely believed them to be "morally permissible".

Young Mr. Brown said...

"perhaps people . . . are in fact saying that they are morally permissible - as in the state ought to permit homosexual relations."

I didn't mention it in my post, but Gallup asked that question as well. ("Do you or do you not think that gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal?")

If you follow the link you will see a graph lower down on the page showing the results from 1977 to 2010. The results are, in my opinion, a little surprising - even odd, with some wild fluctuations - which are not paralleled in the graph which show people's view of the morality of homosexual relations.

Incidentally, if one takes the current (2010) figures, they show that: -
58% think that homosexual relations should be legal,
52% think that they are morally acceptable,
44% think that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognised by the law as valid.

In 2004, the figures were 46%, 42%, and 42% respectively.

At least that's what Gallup says.

indigomyth said...

I am quite surprised the support for the legality of homosexual relations is so low (58%).

58% think that homosexual relations should be legal,
52% think that they are morally acceptable,

Hmm, that would indicate 6% that believe it is wrong, but consider it legitimate to be allowed to happen. That is quite a depressing, from a libertarian perspective - that so many people believe that what they believe is morally wrong ought to be legislated against by the state.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Yes it is depressing.

But then I suspect that people are not consistent. I wonder what results Gallup would get if they asked the same questions about adultery.

Albert said...

the only explanation I can think of is that it is fallout from the publicity about child abuse in the Catholic church.

I don't think that is the case as the biggest change seems to have occurred between 2006 and 2009, when things were rather quiet on that front. Remember: the real shock in the US on child abuse was about 9 years ago. Equally, we now have a clearer understanding that most of the abuse was not paedophilia but men abusing adolescent boys, which rightly or wrongly looks like a "gay" problem. So if the child abuse scandal has had any effect, it is most likely to make people think there is something wrong with homosexuality.

As for the difference between Protestants and Catholics, I suggest four reaons:

1. people still self-identify as Catholics even when their practice of their faith is pretty limited. I guess this may not be as strong with Protestants. Accordingly, those who call themselves Protestants may well be a more committed group than those who call themselves Catholics.

2. For Catholicism, opposition to gay sex is part of the wider coherence of opposition to contraception etc. Since many Catholics ignore their Church on that wider issue, they must, as Elizabeth Anscombe predicited, eventually accept homosexuality. For many Protestants the rationale is simpler: a straight forward appeal to scripture "solves" the problem.

3. (and in addition to indigomyth's point) there is a question as to what is meant by "homosexual relations". Catholics are clear on the distinction between orientation and practice (the former being morally neutral) and therefore between friendships and sex. If, following Church teaching, they took the expression in a wider sense, they might have thought it acceptable. If this seems like special pleading, imagine if the figures would have stayed the same if the question had been "gay sex" is morally acceptable, or specified particular forms of gay sex. I suspect the figures would look different.

4. There has just been a lot of chaos in the Catholic Church after Vatican II, and much of it in America.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks, Albert. That's very helpful.

Of your suggestions, I must confess to being sceptical about point 3 (I simply cannot believe that huge numbers of Catholics took the phrase in its wider sense, especially if Protestants didn't), but the others seem to me to be quite probable - particularly point 2.

I think that it would be very interesting Gallup been asking exactly the same questions in the UK, so that we could compare Britain and America. How would Protestantism and Catholicism here compare with Protestantism across the Atlantic? Are there special factors that come into play in America?

Albert said...

YMB,

Certainly 3 is the weakest point, but it does reflect a fault in the question.

To give an example of why the question is wrong, our local URC minister complained to me that when a particular church came up, the only applicants to be the minister were women and gay men. Eventually a gay man who, (in the full knowledge of the old ladies who made up the congregation and agreed to the appointment) openly had a gay partner, was chosen. Having agreed to all this, they then asked "And where will his friend live?"!!

I expect that Gallup spoke softly of "homosexual relations" so as not to scare the horses. How people deal with such faults and special pleading in survey questions is obviously subject to a range of hidden influences, some of which may be cultural.

You're also right that 2 is very significant.

It's difficult to know how the question would be answered here. Many Protestants would be much more liberal here. Methodists, for example, in the US are quite conservative I gather, here they tend to be liberal. There is clearly greater fundamentalism in the US (it's interesting in this regard that US Catholics tend not to believe in evolution if I recall, odd then, that they think "homosexual relations" are okay). One other factor here is that 1. would not be as strong I think and that might support a more conservative reading.

I was wondering whether the "Obama factor" had any part to play. It will be interesting to see, whether approval of homosexuality goes down, as people become disillusioned with his kind of leftist ideology in the US and forget how much they came to suspect the Republicans.

A further thought on all this is that because in the wake of Vatican II many things changed, Catholics sometimes have the impression that just about everything can change.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Many Protestants would be much more liberal here. Methodists, for example, in the US are quite conservative I gather, here they tend to be liberal.

Broadly speaking, the first statement is true, but it is slightly simplistic. For example, the Bishops of the The Episcopal Church in the USA, are, on the whole, more strongly liberal than CofE bishops, and the American equivalents of the URC - the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church USA are not really more conservative than the URC - the United Church of Christ, is, in fact, considerably more liberal.

The United Methodist Church in the USA is somewhat more traditional that the Methodist Church of Great Britain, but there is not a lot in it. I know a gent of traditional theological beliefs who is a pastor of in the United Methodist Church in the USA, and I suspect that he might not wholeheartedly agree with the statement "Methodists in the US are quite conservative."

Young Mr. Brown said...

Many Protestants would be much more liberal here.

And of course, more to the point, the fact that the largest Protestant denomination in the UK is the CofE, while the largest Protestant denomination in America is the Southern Baptist Convention, tells you that American Protestantism is different in character to British Protestantism.