The good news in a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute is that despite continuing hatred of gays and lesbians preached from some Christian pulpits, prejudice against people of homosexual orientation is declining in the U.S.
The study shows growing support for civil unions, same-sex marriage, adoption by gay or lesbian couples and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
The study analyzed more than 20 years worth of polling data gathered by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public LIfe to detect trends in opinions. The changes of attitude reported in the new study are not uniform across all groups of American citizens but it's reassuring, nonetheless, that even among religious groups that often have been the source of anti-gay prejudice -- especially those identified as white evangelicals -- opinions are changing away from condemnation and more toward support.
Clyde Wilcox, professor of government at
"There are very few things that have changed in American public opinion as dramatically as support for gay and lesbian rights," he told us. "Since 1994 the numbers just really pop off the charts. . .It's really been kind of a tidal wave of change, and these trends occur all across religious communities so that white evangelical fundamentalists today are far more accommodating to gays and lesbians than they were 20 years ago and so are Catholics and so are Mainline Protestants."
These supportive trends are especially visible among younger people, the researchers say. And that's for lots of reasons, including the reality that many of them know people who are gay and, unlike previous generations when more gays were in the closet, young people know that they know gay people. And, of course, when you know people personally it's more difficult to hold ridiculous stereotypes about them.
Someone else on the conference call Friday was the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, a United Church of Christ pastor who works with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
"While I am very happy and glad for the trends," she said, "and I really do feel that the universe really does bend toward justice and folks are by and large increasing their support for LGBT persons in society, I think one of the cautionary notes I take from the study is the continuing role that religion plays in anti-LGBT attitudes and behaviors in our country."
My guess is that these supportive trends will continue until one day those who would marginalize gays and lesbians either for religious reasons or out of simple fear and prejudice will become such a minority that they themselves will feel more comfortable espousing their views only in the closet. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.
For my own take on what the Bible says about homosexuality, look for my talk on that subject under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.
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THE POPE ADMONISHES FRANCE
The French government has been trying to get rid Roma and Gypsy people, but Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in with an admonition to welcome all people. It's one more example of how religion inevitably winds up having to say a word about what some people think of as strictly a political matter. If it involves the human condition, religion should and must have its say.