As the US Supreme Court ponders same-sex marriage – and politicians look anxiously for public opinion clues on today’s hottest social issue – church leaders play an important role that may in fact be diminishing.
Increasingly, it seems, church doctrine holds less sway on what many see as a moral issue.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll, for example, finds that Roman Catholics support gay marriage 54-38 percent – slightly higher than the general population, according to several recent polls.
Among those who describe themselves as “born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist" Christians, opposition to gay marriage remains high. Still, half of those say “the legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable,” according to a survey by LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, says polls showing increasing support for same-sex marriage should not be taken as political gospel – especially for Republicans wavering in the direction of approval.
“History – and most statistical data – shows that young people tend to become more conservative and more religious as they grow up, get married, and start families of their own,” Mr. Perkins writes on the CNS.com website (founded as the Conservative News Service).
“In fact, in Frank Newport's new book, ‘God Is Alive and Well,’ the editor-in-chief of Gallup explains that most people are at their spiritually lowest point at age 23,” Perkins writes. “After that, people become increasingly religious – meaning that a hasty retreat on marriage may score cheap points now, but it would actually alienate the same people later on.”
On several TV news shows Sunday morning, senior Roman Catholic clerics weighed in on the debate over gay marriage.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, says his church needs to be more welcoming of gay and lesbian Catholics.
"We gotta do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people,” he said on ABC's "This Week.” “And I admit, we haven't been too good at that.”
“Our major challenge is to continue in a credible way to present the eternal concerns to people in a timeless attractive way,” Cardinal Dolan said. “And sometimes there is a disconnect – between what they’re going through and what Jesus and his Church is teaching. And that’s a challenge for us.”
Asked what he’d say to a gay couple professing love for the church as well as for each other, Dolan replied:
“Well, the first thing I’d say to them is, ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And we want your happiness. And you’re entitled to friendship.’ But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, especially when it comes to sexual love – that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
But Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged what may be a growing problem for the church.
"The only thing I worry about is someone saying to me, 'You, because you believe that sex is intended for marriage and because you believe that marriage is indissoluble and because you believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,' that somehow you don't belong here. That somehow, this is bigotry or this is hate speech,” he said. “That's what I worry about.”
"There has to be room enough in the society as large, as free and as pluralistic as America to make space for all of us," Wuerl said.
Appearing on Bloomberg’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” retired Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said he has “no problem” with civil unions for gay couples that confer the same rights as marriage.”
“I certainly would prefer that” to what I could call ‘a marriage,’ in quotes,” Cardinal McCarrick said.
“Same-sex marriage is not at this point prevalent in our society, and probably won’t be” because gays are a minority, McCarrick told Bloomberg. Children whose parents divorce or are born out of wedlock, he said, “find themselves out on a limb,” which “is a serious problem in our society.”