Updated March 28, 2011 at 9:13a.m. MST. Adds qualification from Gray in paragraph 12.
A survey claiming majority U.S. Catholic support for same-sex “marriage” shows some differences with the “gold standard” of social surveys and did not report important information like the margin of error.
A March 23, 2011 report from the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute included claims that Catholic support for same-sex “marriage” stood at 53 percent.
Mark M. Gray, Ph.D., director of CARA Catholic Polls and a research associate for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, said the claim of majority support cannot be made “with any certainty, given the relatively small sample size here and the margin of error.”
The survey had interviewed about 3,000 people, including about 600 Catholics, Gray said. The margin of error for the Catholic population was plus or minus six percentage points.
“Any percentage here, for all Catholics, could be six points higher, it could be six points lower,” he explained. He criticized the institute’s report for not including either the margins of error or the numbers of Latino Catholics, which he said was “standard practice.”
Gray told CNA the figure for same-sex “marriage” support was “a little bit above” that reported in the 2010 General Social Survey, the “gold standard” of sociological research conducted every two years. In that survey, 20 percent of Catholics strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed “that homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another.”
The high figure from the Public Religion Research Institute also resulted from “kind of forcing people between two options,” civil marriage for same-sex couples or no recognition whatsoever, he said.
In Gray’s view, a three-option survey adding the choice of civil unions “gets at a greater level of detail” and probably provides “a more accurate estimation, because people have more choices to consider.”
The same report also contained results from a three-option poll. Forty-three percent of Catholics favor “allowing gay and lesbian people to marry” and 31 percent support “allowing them to form civil unions.” About 22 percent say there should be no legal recognition for a homosexual couple’s relationship. Latino Catholics were more likely than white Catholics to oppose any civil recognition, but they were also more likely to support same-sex “marriage.”
The Public Religion Research Institute reported that “major funding” for its survey came from the Arcus Foundation, founded by wealthy homosexual activist Jon Stryker.
The institute has connections to homosexual activist foundations. In 2009 it accepted a $107,500 grant from the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund “to survey California religious communities and help develop religious education strategies supporting gay equality.” The fund provided additional support for the latest survey report, as did the Ford Foundation.
At the same time, Gray said that some numbers in the report are “pretty consistent” with publicly available data and that he considers the study to be accurate within its own margin of error.
“Over time there’s been a growing percentage of people who agree specifically with the questions about civil unions and marriage, something that we’ve seen in surveys. A lot of it we see in terms of generational differences.”
However, in surveys providing three choices, same-sex “marriage” support does not draw majority support from Catholics overall. Only those unaffiliated with religion show majority support for same-sex “marriage.”
Another facet the survey did not highlight was that breaking down the figures by church attendance produced a remarkably different set of results.
More frequent Massgoers were less likely to approve of same-sex “marriage,” and 31 percent of Massgoers who attended weekly or more frequently favor no legal recognition for same-sex couples. However, 38 percent of the same group favor civil unions.
Even support for civil unions falls short of Catholic teaching.
In a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.”
Both generational changes and less frequent attendance are “probably important” in explaining the survey results, Gray said. “Which one matters more is an interesting question. Most of the change is among younger people, both within Catholicism, Protestantism, and the general population overall.”