Same Sex Marriage & Catholics: Survey Says…

It’s all about how you read the signs…

Today’s headline to a study claiming that Catholics support same sex marriage and want the Church to change its teaching:

Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Catholics Want New Direction From Next Pope

American voter support for same-sex marriage is inching up and now stands at 47 – 43 percent, including 54 – 38 percent among Catholic voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. 

This compares to a 48 – 46 percent statistical tie among all voters on same-sex marriage December 5 and reverses the 55 – 36 percent opposition in a July, 2008, survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. 

Among all adult Catholics, 52 percent say the Church is moving in the right direction, while 31 percent say it is going in the wrong direction. 


And there you have it. It’s clear isn’t it?

Further on in the findings of this “national poll,” we come across a rather significant detail:

From February 27 – March 4, Quinnipiac University surveyed 497 adults Catholics with a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent. The same-sex marriage question was asked of 1,944 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points. Live interviewers call land lines and cell phones. 

So over a period of six days, they called 497 Catholics out of the 70+ million in the United States. Hmmmm….

Did they ask people why they identify as Catholic? Or how often they go to Mass? These are important questions. Many people say that they are Catholic when they are in fact not practicing Catholics. When asking people who regularly attend Mass, the answer on same-sex marriage is quite different.

This Pew Report from 2008 is a bit dated, but I think it makes an interesting point:

Polls show that frequency of worship service attendance is a factor in the opposition to gay marriage. According to an August 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 55% of Americans oppose gay marriage, with 36% favoring it. But those with a high frequency of church attendance oppose it by a substantially wider margin (73% in opposition vs. 21% in favor). Opposition among white evangelicals, regardless of frequency of church attendance, is even higher – at 81%. A majority of black Protestants (64%) and Latino Catholics (52%)[*] also oppose gay marriage, as do pluralities of white, non-Hispanic Catholics (49%) and white mainline Protestants (47%). Only among Americans without a religious affiliation does a majority (60%) express support.

I’ll be looking for something more current to post here. Nevertheless the point stands: when asking Catholics what they think about same-sex marriage, a responsible poll would first report why someone identifies as a Catholic, particularly if the poll is suggesting that this religious group wants its leadership to change Church teaching. People who do not attend Mass regularly (and, no, attending Mass on Ash Wednesday or Christmas and Easter does not count as “attending regularly”) are not as vested in Church teaching. It’s also interesting that those who are more involved in the Church seem to better understand her teachings… Coincidence? Sure…

UPDATE – here’s a more recent poll sampling, also from the Pew Forum. If you scroll down to the section “Attend Religious Services,” you’ll see that church attendance corresponds almost inversely to opinions on same-sex marriage. For example, in 2012, those who regularly attend church were 28% in favor and 65% opposed. For those who do not attend church regularly, the numbers were 60% in favor and 31% opposed.

Yet, as we get closer to the Conclave to elect a new pope, you can be sure that this poll will be bandied about ad nauseam: “Catholics say new pope should support same-sex marriage.” Hmmmm….the opinions of 497 people who identify as Catholic for unknown reasons should be considered representative of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide or even the 70+ million Catholics in the US?

Come on, can’t Quinnipiac do better? Hopefully, those in the news business will dismiss this study for the shabby work that it is and dig deeper. Look at the people who attend the Catholic Church in countries around the world have to say about this particular teaching. Maybe start with France? Even NPR reported that 350,000 people showed up to protest the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Or to make it really interesting, ask Anglicans in the African nations what they think of the Catholic Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage.


Categories:Breaking News Marriage

  • Jeremy

    Did you really opt not to post my comment?

    • Jeremy


  • Jennifer Cirillo

    The number of non practicing catholics in my region of the country is disappointing. Some churches fill but many do not. I think your relating the statistics of those in support of gay marriage and the their lack of regular church attendance was brilliant! One who does not truely attend and follow the religion would naturally be in support of a more secular belief system. I just hope for change among the catholics who do not practice. I thought Romney was the perfect change for the nation to get back to a more socially conservative nation centered on religious beliefs and family. I will note Quinnipiacs misleading statistics when selecting a university for my future children. Thank you.

  • Chad


    Dr. Desolenni is clearly pointing out a flawed, if not skewed poll, that is all. The Quinnipiac poll does not give enough information upon which to establish a hypothesis as it relates to American Catholics’ sentiments on same-sex marriage. Considering a Catholic’s obligation to attend mass on Sunday is a grave obligation that can potentially lead to mortal sin if missed, says a lot about the individuals views on grave moral matters.

  • Patrick


    I appreciate a good analogy to help understand these important issues, so may I suggest a better one? With respect, your analogy isn’t just not “tight” but it completely misses the mark. A true analogy would be asking football fans what they think of an issue relevant to football.

    Citizen A holds calls himself a football fan. He understand the basics of the game, loves it, goes to an occasional game, usually reads the football scores in the paper and always discusses football at the water cooler. There is no other sport about which he is as passionate. He is teaching the game to his son and it is something that binds him with his other family members.

    His colleague, Citizen B, also holds himself out as a football fan. However, he personally attends a game every Sunday. He knows the stats on every major team and every player. He knows the history of the sport, who is about to be recruited/traded/benched.

    Citizen B thinks that Citizen A isn’t “really” a football fan.

    Similarly, your article raises for me a criticism I read often here in the comments on CV, rarely in the body of an article. And isn’t the point of your article in essence the same argument – to wit, those people aren’t REALLY catholics. Or they’re not as real as REAL Catholics, and therefore, their opinions should be discounted or at least expressly delineated weighed against the real ones.

    I’m not sure.

    In the example above, who is a football fan, A or B?



    • Pia de Solenni


      Thanks for your feedback. With regard to the analogy, I think we’d have to shift it a bit. Either one of your examples could be A or B, but the second example would be someone who comes from a family that loves, loves every aspect of football (your A example) and only pays attention during the Super Bowl b/c that’s the traditional party that they’re used to. Chances are, they talk through the game and are quiet for the commercials…

      Thanks, too, for pointing out the tension of suggesting or inferring that some people aren’t REALLY Catholics. As I mentioned to Greg below, I’m not trying to push people out of the Catholic “tent”. I do, however, want to make a distinction, just as one would between a football fan who watches games regularly and follows teams/stats/profiles, etc., and one who is a fan of the Super Bowl. People who are not practicing Catholics have not demonstrated that they are as vested in the Church. I have a lot of respect for those Catholics who struggle with particular teachings and still keep coming to Mass. From a pastoral perspective, I wish we were doing more to understand why people identify as Catholic even if they don’t practice. Something draws them to the identity and that something would be the place to begin evangelization. In my experience, people have often had horribly hurtful experiences with a representative of the Church. Hopefully, others/ourselves can be a remedy for that in our attempts at being good witnesses.

      Given your and Greg’s feedback, I will certainly take more effort in the future to not create a sense that some people are not REALLY Catholic.




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