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Having Gay Friends Changes Evangelicals' Minds on Marriage, But Not Morality

LifeWay looks at how many support legal same-sex unions they view as sinful.
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Having Gay Friends Changes Evangelicals' Minds on Marriage, But Not Morality
Image: Ted Eytan / Flickr

One simple question often determines how Americans view same-sex marriage: “Do you have gay or lesbian friends?”

Those who do have such friends are twice as likely to say same-sex marriage should be legal as those who do not, according to a phone survey of 2,000 Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

“When it comes to support for gay marriage, a lot of it depends on who you know,” said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay's executive director.

The friendship factor affects evangelicals as well—but much more on legality than morality.

On the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal, only 20 percent of evangelicals who say they have no gay or lesbian friends agree. But among evangelicals who have such friends, agreement nearly doubles to 38 percent.

Yet on the question of morality, the shift among evangelicals is much smaller. LifeWay found that 70 percent of evangelicals without gay or lesbian friends believe that “sex between people of the same gender is sinful, regardless of its legality,” while 62 percent of evangelicals with such friends still say likewise.

Currently 37 states allow same-sex marriage (though ceremonies are on hold in some places, pending appeals). Later this month, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments that could make same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

Researchers found that faith and friendship play a key role in how Americans view the issue.

Overall, half of Americans agree with the statement, “I believe gay marriage should be legal.” That number rises to 6 in 10 among Americans who say they have gay or lesbian friends.

Among Americans who say they have no gay or lesbian friends, only a third agree same-sex marriage should be legal.

Few evangelicals—which LifeWay defines as those who identify as born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians—support same-sex marriage. Less than a third (30 percent) say same-sex marriage should be legal.

Recently a number of Christian groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, filed a friend of the court brief, asking the Supreme Court to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio.

Meanwhile, some evangelical writers, such as David Gushee and Matthew Vines, have argued that homosexuality is not sinful. And a handful of larger evangelical churches have decided to affirm LGBT members.

But overall, two-thirds of evangelicals say sex between two people of the same gender remains sinful, whether it is legal or not.

By contrast, only about a third (38%) of non-evangelicals agree.

That leaves evangelicals at odds with American culture, says Stetzer, and in danger of being trapped in the culture war.

Their task now, he said, is to clearly articulate Christian teaching on sexuality with grace to those who disagree.

“You can’t reach people if you hate them,” he said.

LifeWay's study confirmed that Americans remain polarized over the question of homosexuality.

A third (36%) strongly agree that same-sex marriage should be legal. A third (35%) strongly disagree. Few (6%) are unsure.

Researchers found similar responses to the statement, “I believe that sex between people of the same gender is sinful, regardless of its legality.” Less than half of Americans (46%) agree, while the same number disagree. Seven percent are unsure.

For comparison, LifeWay also conducted an online survey, asking 2,252 Americans, “Do you believe homosexual behavior is a sin?”

In 2014, 3 in 10 answered “yes.” More than half (54%) said “no.”

By contrast, 37 percent said “yes" in a similar 2012 survey, as did 44 percent in 2011. About 4 in 10 (43%) said homosexual behavior is not a sin in the 2011 survey, along with 45 percent in 2012.

Editor’s note: Bob Smietana, senior news editor for Christianity Today, is former senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

[Image courtesy of Ted Eytan - Flickr]

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