WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Nearly one-third of Millennials who have left their childhood religion cited anti-gay teachings as a major factor, with 70 percent of young Americans agreeing that religious groups are alienating their generation.
A new survey of more than 4,500 respondents from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows a dramatic shift – and widening gap — in Americans’ views on gay marriage and religion. Support for same-sex marriage jumped 21 percent in the past decade, with 53 percent of those surveyed backing gay marriage.
But the most significant support of same-sex marriage comes from Millennials (ages 18 to 33), with 69 percent backing marriage between gay and lesbian couples. Millennials report a nearly 20-point gap between the views of their families and the views of their friends regarding gay marriage.
Support for gay marriage shows a massive generation gap between the Millennials and the only 37 percent of the “Silent Generation” (ages 68 and older) who show support on the controversial issue. The survey also showed a widening gap between Democrats and Republicans regarding same-sex marriage. Sixty-four percent of Democrats (64 percent) and 57 percent of independents said they support gay marriage, compared to only 34 percent of Republicans.
And Millenials reported that negative church teachings and other organized religions’ views on LGBT issues has played a role in their rejection of their respective childhood faith.
“While many churches and people in the pews have been moving away from their opposition to LGBT rights over the last decade, this new research provides further evidence that negative teachings on this issue have hurt churches’ ability to attract and retain young people,” said PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones. “Nearly one-third of Millennials who left their childhood religion say unfavorable church teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people played a significant role in their decision to head for the exit.”
Among Millennials who no longer identify with the religion in which they were raised, 31 percent say that negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people was either a somewhat important (17 percent) or very important (14 percent) factor in their disaffiliation from organized religion.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans were far more likely than other Americans to report leaving religious life – 37 percent of LGBT Americans are now unaffiliated.
A 2012 Pew Research Center poll found that one-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in the survey’s history.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 percent).
Researchers cited the “friends and family” effect of having close friends and family who are gay as one major factor behind growing support behind LGBT issues.
“Few changes over the last 20 years have had a more profound effect on support for same-sex marriage than the increasing number of people who now have a gay friend or family member,” noted Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “The number of Americans who have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian has increased by a factor of three over the last two decades, from 22 percent in 1993 to 65 percent today.”
– Benjamin Fearnow