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Gay Marriage and the Glories of the World

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 16, 2011

In late 2010, the Pew Research Center released a study of support for gay marriage in the United States. Based on interviews with 6,000 adults, 42% favor same-sex marriage while 48% are opposed. But a year earlier, only 37% were in favor and 54% were opposed. It’s a trend which tracks the cultural ascendancy of ideas.

The results show women more favorable to gay marriage than men, and younger respondents more favorable than older ones. Interestingly, moderate to conservative Democrats support and oppose gay marriage in nearly the same numbers as moderate to liberal Republicans. But the divide between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans is, of course, huge.

Support for gay marriage rises with the number of years of education a person has. Proponents might argue that enlightenment engenders support. But once again, I’ll state the obvious: This is a trend which tracks the cultural ascendancy of ideas. University professors as a group are probably more effective at communicating which ideas are fashionable, and which are not, than they are at communicating anything else. Moreover, with rare exceptions, the tone of campus life encourages “sexual liberation”.

Among ethnic groups, Blacks oppose gay marriage by the widest margins. Within the largest (white) ethnic group, religion plays a definite role: 75 percent of Jews favor gay marriage, and the same percentage of evangelical Protestants oppose it. Over 60% of those who are religiously unaffiliated favor it.

Among Catholics, the main determinant appears to be degree of commitment to the Faith, as one would expect. Overall, 49% of white Catholics favor same-sex marriage, with 41% opposed, a shift of about four percentage points in the past year or so. The numbers are a little lower and a little more stable for Hispanic Catholics (opposition has held steady at 43%, and approval has risen from 40 to 42%). But once you ask whether a Catholic attends church weekly or more, the numbers shift radically, with nearly 70% opposed to gay marriage and holding.

One of our supporters wrote in to point out how interesting it would be to break the responses down in terms of specific marriage and children issues: Are you currently married? Do you have a sexual partner who is not your spouse? Do you have children? Have you ever been divorced? I would add, Do you contracept? These questions are extremely pertinent, and the answers might well reveal what my correspondent supposed, that “those who are married, especially with children, are strongly against gay marriage.” His point is a good one: To oppose gay marriage, you must first have some understanding of what marriage is.

Have I hinted that the growth of support for gay marriage over the past few years tells us more about the tendency of people to espouse fashionable ideas than about any significant moral shift? It might almost be said that taking significant moral positions, at least from the point of view of one’s own interior life, depends precisely on the ability to resist the temptation to be fashionable. Those who do not resist this temptation do make significant moral decisions in terms of their consequences, of course, but they are hardly significantly engaged with moral issues.

I have said before that it is difficult to know exactly how people sense which ideas are fashionable (that is, acceptable) and which are not, and I have also referred at times to cultural elites which are not always easy to identify. Yet in point of fact, everyone does know what the surrounding culture expects him to think. This is especially true in university life, where intellectual freedom tends to be at a minimum in terms of publishing, grants, accolades and promotion—and often, for students, in terms of grades. And everyone knows when he is in the presence of the elites, too. He either feels euphoria at being accepted, or he starts behaving like somebody he is not.

Polls reflect this fundamental reality of social existence. But it is a reality that drives the numbers in two distinct ways: First, by getting people to change what little minds they have; and second, by inducing the cautious to say what they are supposed to say, whether they believe it or not. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 17, 2011 8:06 AM ET USA

    Was it G.K. Chesterton who said, "The Catholic Church is the only thing that keeps a man from the degraded slavery of being a child of his age"?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 16, 2011 11:39 PM ET USA

    I do not believe that dioceses has done enough to educate us on ethical and legal reasons for why we should not allow it. When it comes to abortion, I have often taken the opportunity to help change hearts and minds, but I find it much more difficult with gay marriage. Aside from gay marriage, I believe that homosexuality itself is very damaging to society, so maybe we should be pushing for homosexuality being defined as a disorder, which it is.